BOSTON -- LeBron James was not among the Cleveland Cavaliers speaking with the media on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after Boston delivered a powerful 108-83 Game 1 defeat to James and company.
Words mean little at this point of the series when it comes to James, a dominant player who tends to take that dominance to another level following a humbling defeat like the one Boston administered in Game 1.
Players and coaches on both sides of this matchup know that James will be better, more effective, more dominant than the 15-point performance in Game 1, when they meet again tonight in Game 2 of their best-of-seven series at the TD Garden.
Marcus Morris will likely spend more time than any other Celtics player as the primary defender on James.
In Game 1, Morris guarded James for a team-high 39 possessions. In that time, James scored eight points and had five assists, but did so shooting 3-for-10 from the field while turning the ball over four times, according to NBA.com/stats. And while Morris delivered his first career playoff double-double in Game 1 with 21 points and 10 rebounds, he knows how he deals with James will go far in Boston’s quest to get to the NBA Finals.
“The team needs me more defensively now than in past series,” Morris said. “Guarding Giannis (Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee), guarding (Ben) Simmons and now with LeBron. I’m definitely going to stay aggressive and things like that, but my main focus is defending that guy and helping my team win.”
Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry has been at the helm of Boston’s top-ranked defense this past season.
And while he would love to duplicate what Boston did well in Game 1, he knows the Celtics have to be better defensively, knowing they will be dealing with a far more aggressive LeBron James tonight.
“We know we didn’t play perfect,” Shrewsberry told NBC Sports Boston. “There’s a lot of things we need to continue to work on to win. And to just stay with that mindset, we have to continue to get better … we know they’re going to come out with fire and fury (tonight). If we don’t match it, what does Game 1 mean?”
Boston players don’t believe that will be an issue in part because of what they did well defensively in Game 1, and the potential for them to be even better at that end of the floor tonight.
Marcus Smart believes Boston’s versatility when it comes to defending James, does provide an added jolt of confidence.
“We’re able to switch and put different guys on them,” Smart said. “We are able to hold our ground. And that’s huge when you got a guy like LeBron who loves getting downhill. You know when he sees an opening and gets downhill it’s hard to guard him. He sees five guys there, it makes him think a little more, and it keeps him guessing.”
But one thing that doesn’t involve much guesswork is whether James will have a big game scoring.
In this postseason, James and the Cavs have had two losses prior to Game 1 against Boston, in which they lost by double digits.
James responded in those two games in a big way, averaging 45.5 points in each of the two games to go with 10 rebounds and six assists while shooting 33-for-49 (67.3 percent).
Not surprisingly, James’ teammates are confident that he will bounce back with a strong Game 2 performance.
“I expect him to have a big response,” said Cleveland’s Kyle Korver. “He has before. He came back to Cleveland. I expect him to respond big like he did, what was that? Game Two against Indiana after that really tough loss and he played extremely well. So he’ll shake this one off and it’s one that he’s going to have to leave and bounce back.”
Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson agreed.
“I expect Lebron to have a LeBron type of game,” said Thompson who may be in the starting lineup tonight. “You know how it goes; Legendary. At the same time, you can’t rely on that. We got to do what we do and be effective. Boston does a good job at clogging the lanes. Our shooters have to do a good job as well.”