BOSTON – So much for home court advantage.
After falling behind by as many as 28 points, the Boston Celtics clawed back into the game but there was just too much ground to make up against a motivated Cleveland team that needed just 48 minutes to get back home court advantage, something the Celtics worked all season to claim.
And when the final horn sounded, the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers moved one step closer to a repeat with a 117-104 victory.
LeBron James had a near triple-double with 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while Kevin Love had a double-double of 32 points and 12 rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Celtics were led by Avery Bradley’s 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting. Isaiah Thomas had a double-double with 17 points and 10 assists, but shot just 7-for-19 from the field while missing five of his seven 3-point attempts.
Cleveland now leads the best-of-seven series 1-0, with Game 2 in Boston on Friday.
Boston got down big and made great strides in the second half, but the huge deficit forced them to play near-perfect basketball just to have a shot which they came up short of accomplishing.
Looking at the way the game was played, it looked as if the Celtics were tired at the start of the game and didn’t seem to catch their breath until the second half.
It was that kind of game in the fourth quarter as the Celtics hung close but had too much ground to make up and not enough defensive stops in them to really put a dent in the Cavaliers' big lead.
But the Celtics continued to fight and claw their way, doing just enough to keep the game from getting out of hand and in a sense, setting the tone for what they certainly hope will be a better showing in Game 2.
One of the big storylines coming into Game 1 was whether Cleveland would be a little rusty after having had nine days off since they last played.
They were crisp and efficient from the start, getting anything and everything they wanted offensively while the Celtics struggled to get into any kind of flow or rhythm.
Indeed, it was an emotion-free game for most of the third quarter, but that all changed when Avery Bradley was fouled on a dunk attempt.
He made both free throws, but maybe more important, he made it clear to anyone watching the game that despite being down by 20-plus points, he was still in the fight.
And his teammates soon responded with improved, more gritty play defensively along with a slight uptick in terms of scoring the ball.
Having trailed by as many as 28 points in the third, there was little hope that Boston could mount the kind of comeback that would result in a victory.
But as they chipped away at Cleveland’s lead, it was clear that they were not going to let the Cavs just run away with this game.
And there they were, trailing 92-75 going into the fourth after a Marcus Smart put-back dunk with 2.8 seconds to play in the third.
Cleveland’s big lead was fueled in large part by the play of James.
Often, James begins games looking to get his teammates involved offensively.
James called his own number early and often, tallying 15 points in the first quarter while making seven of his first eight field goals primarily on drives to the basket for lay-ups.
Cleveland opened the game with a 20-9 run before leading by as many 23 points in the second quarter after Kyrie Irving connected with Tristan Thompson on a lob dunk that made it a 48-25 game.
Brad Stevens, looking for some way to slow the rising momentum of Cleveland down, called a time-out with 5:17 to play.
The Celtics were able to play them relatively even the rest of the half, which doesn’t do much good when facing a deficit on the north side of 20 points.
It was just too much LeBron.
James had the kind of box score at the half that you would consider a good game – 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting, with five rebounds and four assists.
Meanwhile, the Celtics got strong play in the first half from rookie Jaylen Brown who continues to play some of his best basketball against the Cavaliers. He finished with 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench.
Boston did end the half on a positive note with Thomas draining a 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds to play that brought the Celtics within 61-39 at the half.