The Cavaliers swept Indiana in a tight series, destroyed Toronto in a not-even-close series, and embarrassed Boston at home to start the conference finals. How good are the Cavs, and what will the rest of this series look like?
Being a Cavaliers fan over the past 15 years has been a roller coaster. First, it was terrible. Then came the LeBron James draft and suddenly there was a chance that the Cavs would win a title. Four years later, Cleveland got swept in the Finals. We were bummed about losing, but winning even one game in the Finals would've been playing with house money - we were just excited to be there. Then the 2009 Magic happened. Then Delonte West allegedly happened.
Then Miami happened. Those were bleak years for Cavaliers fans: Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker started every game they appeared in during the strike-shortened 2011-2012 campaign despite their combined 71 years of age.
Then LeBron came back.
All the way through the first 47:30 of last year's game seven, the majority of Cavs fans were afraid to admit that the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to be champions. It wasn't in our nature. We couldn't bring ourselves to say inflammatory things about our team because it always backfired in the past. It was like a parent defending their drug-addled, convicted-felon child by seeing them through rose-colored glasses, except this was the exact opposite. Then the final minutes of game seven happened.
The Block. The Shot. The Stop.
You know what? Let's watch that.
Now, here we are again. The Cavs annihilated the Boston Celtics in game one of the Eastern conference finals. The final score was 117-104, but it wasn't that close. Cleveland dominated defensively, took care of the ball, and abused the smaller Celtics in the paint. Reggie Miller kept pointing out the scoring discrepancy between the starting frontcourts and it's something that needs to be highlighted one more time.
The Cavs' frontcourt starters scored 90 points last night: LeBron James had 38, Kevin Love had 32, and Tristan Thompson had 20. Boston's frontcourt starters scored 32 points: Horford had 11, Crowder had 21, and Amir Johnson had 0. If you throw in every other player who played in the frontcourt for Boston - Olynyk, Brown, Green, and Zeller - the whole group combined for 58 points. That is domination.
But there's more. The Cavaliers crushed Toronto on the heels of a 46% three-point shooting series. That's how the Cavs beat teams, right?
Wrong, apparently. Cleveland shot 35% on three-pointers - a not-terrible number, but 3% worse than their regular season average. Also, the Cavs went 2-3 from deep after all the starters were removed from the game with 3:00 left. This means that before the Cavaliers pulled back, they were just 9-32 on three-pointers or 28%.
The Cavs (essentially) shot 28% on threes and held a lead of more than 15 points for 30 consecutive minutes in this game. That's obscene. That should induce a slaughter rule. Guys not named Kevin Love were 3-21 on three-pointers during the first 45 minutes of game one. The Cavaliers never trailed during that stretch.
Cleveland's defense was, of course, a huge factor all game long. They held Boston to just under 32% on three-pointers (on the season, Boston was 14th best at 36%), and most of their makes seemed to come late in the game. The Cavaliers had active hands, ended with nine steals, and stayed fairly clean with Boston only taking 18 free throws. It was an all-around win.
The last piece of this puzzle, which was also the first piece, is simple: The Cavaliers have LeBron James. Boston does not.
My God. LeBron James dominated game one. There were so many highlights. The torching of Isaiah Thomas. The "I'm unstoppable" three. The complete lockdown of an alleged MVP candidate. The conference MVP playing against the freshman team (represented by Kelly Olynyk). And then the most head-shaking of them all.
You just can't stop this guy.
After the game, LeBron (accurately) pointed out that the Cavaliers didn't play that great. He said he didn't feel that great after 10 days off, despite putting up 38 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and just two turnovers on 58% shooting. If that's true, and LeBron wasn't even at his best, this will be a sweep by a combined score of roughly 700-300.
Bearing in mind that Houston won game one in San Antonio by 27 points, we shouldn't overstate the importance of one game. However, Rockets/Spurs was supposed to be a close series. This one is widely expected to be a domination.
So far, that seems accurate. I'm confident in saying that the Cavaliers are going to the Finals again.