Jaylen Brown, Celtics Demolish LeBron James, Cavaliers in Game 1 of East Finals

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2018

Boston Celtics forward Al Horford (42) celebrates a made basket with guard Jaylen Brown (7) during the first quarter of Game 1 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sunday, May 13, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Apparently the Boston Celtics aren't the Clam Chowder Raptors.  

Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Al Horford added 20, as the Celtics overwhelmed the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter and never looked back on their way to a 108-83 win in Sunday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Cavs led 7-6 with 8:56 remaining in the first quarter and never led the remainder of the game. The Celtics went on a 17-0 run from which the Cavs never recovered; Boston led by as many as 29 points in a two-way evisceration.

LeBron James finished with 15 points in by far his worst performance of this postseason. The Cavs shot just 36.5 percent from the floor as a team, including a 15.4 rate (4-of-26) beyond the arc.

Here are some takeaways from Game 1 as we look ahead to Game 2 on Tuesday in Boston (8:30 p.m. ET). 


It's Not Time to Panic Over LeBron

At halftime, I got a text from a friend that, in the most radio-edited form, said we need to "re-evaluate LeBron's legacy if he loses to this Celtics team."

My response, one word, two emojis: Nope, crying face, crying face.

There's no sugarcoating anything. Relatively speaking, the best player on the planet was awful Sunday at TD Garden. With his teammates folding like Memorial Day lawn chairs, he did nothing to pick them up. His three-pointer remains broken, a talking point that was swept under the rug because he single-handedly ended the Raptors franchise.

James has made just three of his last 23 threes (13 percent). If he can't make the Celtics pay from distance, Cleveland is going to struggle to create space. Boston can hedge hard against his dribble drives and force the Cavs' co-stars to beat them—something they showed no ability to do in Game 1.

On the flip side: This is LeBron. How many times do we have to have this inane legacy conversation after one game, only for him to come back two days later with a historic performance that leaves our collective mouths agape?

May 21, 2017: LeBron finished with 11 points, six rebounds, six assists and six turnovers in a Game 3 Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Celtics. Boston didn't win another game.

May 13, 2018: LeBron finished with 15 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and seven turnovers in a Game 1 loss to the Celtics.

LeBron has been historically brilliant the entire playoffs. It is one game. On the road. In the afternoon, when James has struggled all season. Odds are our talking point Monday night will include James stuffing some random Celtic in a locker. 


Brad Stevens > Tyronn Lue 

Speaking of being stuffed in a locker, Ty Lue is lucky he's not a big guy because he'll be camping inside one overnight after taking a browbeating from Brad Stevens, who this postseason has continued to barge his way to the top of the NBA coaching ranks.

The chasm between the coaching staffs was evident from the first quarter. Stevens, who obviously studied the Kevin Love/Kyle Korver off-ball movements that were so successful against Toronto, had his guys switching all over. He also went with ultrabig lineups to bully the Cavs for stretches, and Lue had no real answers.

The Cavs kept doing the same thing, expecting different results. 

In the days leading up to Game 1, there was a bit of moving the goalposts with Stevens. Some pointed to the fact that the roster, even without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, is loaded with first-round picks. But those narratives ignored the fact that Jaylen Brown just reached legal drinking age in October and that Jayson Tatum was a teenager until two months ago.

Stevens and his Celtics coaching staff have given their young talent the confidence to succeed. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge told ESPN.com's Zach Lowe that Stevens' calm demeanor—rather than one of a screaming totalitarian—has kept the young players level-headed. 

"Some players have a tendency to get frazzled or emotional," Ainge said. "Brad helps with that."

Lue, on the other side, doesn't really exude anything. His resting face is one of confusion, so much so that it's become a Basketball Twitter meme. The fundamental chasm between coaching is the reason the Celtics have a chance in this series. 

On the bright side, Lue did get Rodney Hood to enter the game without refusal. So there's that.


Celtics Youngsters Step Up Where Raptors Failed

These guys are just not afraid of the limelight. Brown and Horford carried the Celtics during their first-half trouncing, with the former scoring 18 of his 23 points before the break.

Brown's improvement this season is eye-opening; last season, he looked like a borderline bust with only occasional flashes of good play. Now the good play has become a near constant, and his game exudes swagger—again a testament to Stevens.

Tatum saw his streak of 20-point playoff games end at seven, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds. He didn't need to take over the game for any long stretches and played efficiently in the background. 


Cavs In Desperate Need of Better 3-Point Shooting

This is obvious. The Cavs can't win this series shooting 15.4 percent (4-of-26) from deep. Kyle Korver can't go brick city (1-of-5). Neither can Kevin Love (1-of-4) or JR Smith (0-of-3).

LeBron threw up a ton of bricks on his own jumpers (5-of-14 overall), but he needs to continue shooting to help space the floor.


Maybe Let's Not Clown Marcus Morris Next Time

The internet shamed the Celtics into deleting an article saying Marcus Morris could be the key to stopping LeBron. Then Morris went out and had a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double while James had his worst game of the playoffs.

It wasn't all Morris, but he helped. 


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