By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics have broken the Cavaliers.
At least it appears that way, as Cleveland flat-out quit late in Game 2 on Tuesday night and now sit in a 2-0 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Cavs threw haymakers left and right at the Celtics in the first half. LeBron James led the charge with 25 points, 21 of which came in a first quarter onslaught, a stern reminder that he is still the King of the East after his 15-point performance in Game 1.
But then the Celtics reminded the Cavaliers who they are. As Cleveland kept punching, the Celtics refused to go down for the count. The Cavaliers were up by 11 late in the second quarter, but the Celtics didn’t quit. They never quit. It’s not in their DNA, and the rest of the basketball world should know this by now.
The Celtics trimmed their deficit to seven points before the half and completely flipped the script by the end of the third quarter. They outscored the Cavaliers 36-22 in the third, closing the quarter on a 23-11 run. Boston took the lead on a Marcus Smart three with 4:34 to go in the frame, a lead they would never relinquish.
The Celtics were fearless everywhere on the court out of halftime. They dove for every loose ball. They fought for every rebound. They made Cleveland work for every look. In other words, they were the Boston Celtics.
The tide began to turn when Terry Rozier started making shots. His Game 1 struggles continued in the first half on Tuesday, but he exploded for 14 points in the third. He scored seven straight for Boston at one point, with a pair of free throws tying the game at 66-66. After a Kevin Love three put Cleveland back on top, Marcus Morris drove hard on Tristan Thompson and laid it in for a three-point play. His battle cry — right in Thompson’s face — made it clear the Celtics were done messing around.
After Smart’s three gave the Celtics the lead, Rozier followed with the two loudest points of the game. He picked up a long rebound and strode down the court, with James giving chase. But there would be no chase-down block by LeBron for the highlight reels. Rozier flew through the air slammed down an exclamation point for the Celtics. The Cavaliers never stood a chance after that, and they pretty much gave up. The Celtics led by seven at the end of the third, and never got closer than six points in the fourth quarter.
After taking those blows at the start of the game, the Celtics were the more physical team in the second half. Eventually, the Cavaliers stopped pushing back. The Celtics held them to just 39 points over the last 24 minutes. Cleveland even let the corpse of Greg Monroe log some quality playing time for Boston.
The Cavaliers looked lost in the second half, a discombobulated mess on both ends of the floor. In the end, not even a 42-point triple double by James was enough for the Cavaliers. It’s the only time James has scored 40 points this postseason and been on the losing end. Even with that monster stat line, the Celtics still outscored the Cavaliers by nine points when James was on the floor, once again showing that it takes much more than one player to beat them. It’s going to take the full team effort that the Celtics display every night, which is something the Cavaliers don’t look capable of at this point.
If a Game 1 blowout was disheartening, now the Cavaliers get to spend four days thinking about how they unraveled in Game 2. James was determined to be great on Tuesday night, and maybe his teammates will actually join him Saturday night for Game 3. The series is still far from over, with a slight chance the Cavs could flip a switch and look like the team that swept the Raptors a week ago. The Celtics also have to prove they can win in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers have lost just one game this postseason.
But why should we doubt the Celtics’ ability to win on the road? Why should we doubt anything anymore with this team? They’ve proven time and time again that doubting them isn’t a wise thing to do, and now, incredibly, they sit two wins away from a trip to the NBA Finals.