LeBron James was at it again last night as the Cleveland Cavaliers went into Boston and routed the Celtics 117-104 to take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Cavs showed no signs of rust following their ten-day lay off as they jumped out to an early lead an never trailed the rest of the way.
The Celtics meanwhile looked like they were feeling the effects of their bruising seven-game series with the Wizards, as they missed 11 of their first 14 shots. The Cavs had no such problems.
James was at his brutal best on his way to 38 points nine rebounds and seven assists – scoring at will during the first half as he punished the Celtics on numerous drives to the basket.
Boston switched centre Kelly Olynyk on to James for much of the first quarter and LeBron embarrassed Olynyk with his speed and strength making five consecutive layups over the Canadian big man.
Kevin Love had the best game of his burgeoning playoff career – registering 32 points and 12 boards including 6 of 9 from downtown.
The former Timberwolves star showcased the range of skills that make him such a match-up nightmare, using his size to impose himself in the post as well as stepping back to make numerous jump shots.
Tristan Thompson along with Love helped the Cavs dominate inside. Thompson had 20 points on a perfect seven of seven from the field as well as six offensive rebounds as the Celtics simply couldn’t cope with his physicality and activity under the basket.
Boston will rue an ice cold first half from beyond the arc. Numerous Celtics players missed wide open looks as they went two of 16 from three-point range. Brad Stevens and his players will believe that if they can start draining some triples they will stand a chance in game 2.
Unfortunately for Boston, the Cavs will also be looking to improve their long range shooting as Cleveland went just 11 of 31.
Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley each had 21 points for Boston and Isaiah Thomas scored 17 while dishing out ten assists.
However, Boston’s talismanic guard struggled with Cleveland’s aggressive blitzing and trapping and was kept quiet for most of the night.
Since Thomas erupted for 53 points against the Wizards in the second round he has commanded much more physical defence and he will need to adjust quickly if the Celtics are to mount a comeback.
The much larger problem for Boston is the same problem that has plagued the Eastern Conference for the last seven years. How on earth do you stop or even slow down LeBron James?
After the defeat Boston coach Brad Stevens said “It’s hard to believe, but [James is] better than when I got into the league. A lot better.”
This echoed the sentiments of Toronto shooting guard DeMar DeRozan who claimed that James was quicker and stronger than ever in their second-round showdown.
James’ stats from this year’s postseason have certainly been impressive. The King is averaging 35 points, seven assists and nine rebounds in the Cavs perfect 9-0 start.
He is shooting the three better than ever – despite his poor one of six effort last night – is assisting on more three-pointers than ever, and getting to the free throw line at his highest rate since 2009.
LeBron has got to a point where, in his 14th season and 12 post-season, he has seen it all before.
Every different look a defence can throw at him and every offensive set he has ever run – it is all burnt into his incredible basketball brain.
All this means he is playing almost perfect basketball – always making the right read, the right pass and the right play.
When a player with the combination of physical and cerebral gifts that LeBron James has is playing like he is he right now he is almost unstoppable.
Last night he made the Boston Celtics – an outstanding young basketball team – look like a bunch of absolute amateurs.
It is very hard to see what Brad Stevens and his team can do to change this.
The series continues with game 2 in Boston on Friday night. A game Boston simply must win if they are to avoid the indignity of a sweep.