During the Cleveland Cavaliers’ second game of the season––an overtime contest against the Chicago Bulls––Kyrie Irving looked at Mike Miller in the middle of a late timeout and famously asked, “Is this, like, similar to what a playoff game feels like?”
Irving took a lot of unfair mockery for the question, but it was a fair representation of the level of inexperience of the young Cavs guard. Against the upstart Boston Celtics in his first-ever playoff game, Irving proved to have no nerves about the atmosphere, dropping 30 points and hitting five three-pointers while helping lead Cleveland to a 113-110 victory and a 1-0 series lead.
It was also LeBron James’s first playoff game in his return to the Cavaliers, and although he expressed some reservations prior to the game about how Irving and first-time playoff teammate Kevin Love might play, both of them played well, and so did James. Cleveland’s Big Three did most of the Cavs’ damage, combining for 69 of the team’s 113 points, as James and Love alternately found each other with impressive passing, and Irving picked his moments beautifully with the ball in his hands.
The surges from those three players––as well as Cleveland’s three-point barrage––leads to the biggest key from Game 1:
The Cavs promptly answering every Celtics run. – Give Boston credit; all that winning seems to have done wonders for this team’s fortitude. From the first half to the fourth quarter, the Celtics made run after run, jumping out to an eight-point second-quarter lead then trying several times to trim the margin to single digits late in the fourth quarter. Coach Brad Stevens’s team showed the type of patience and resilience that he was preaching on the sideline all game, and although things got away from them in the middle of the game, the way they played all the way to the horn in Game 1 makes you believe they have a good chance to win a game in Boston during the series.
This was about the Cavs, though, as LeBron’s squad never allowed their early deficit to rise above single digits, getting consecutive three-pointers from Irving, J.R. Smith and Kevin Love to overcome an eight-point deficit in about 60 seconds, marking three of the team’s 13 threes in the game. Cleveland didn’t answer Boston’s runs so much as just form a fuggin’ wall around the 10-point lead mark and never allowing them past it.
When Boston made another charge in the second quarter, threatening to carry momentum into halftime, Irving hit another three at the halftime buzzer to keep the deficit at eight points. During the third quarter, when the Celtics had trimmed Cleveland’s lead to six points with a little more than a minute remaining in the quarter, the Cavs closed on a 9-0 run that was capped by another buzzer-beating three-pointer, this time from James Jones. And in the fourth quarter, Cleveland’s two newest and most-questioned players delivered two daggers to Boston.
Kyrie and Kevin’s fourth-quarter threes. – The Celtics threatened several times to make it a single-digit game during the fourth quarter, twice on long jumpers by Isaiah Thomas, who seemed to be getting close to a groove all game. Fortunately for the Cavs, they answered the bell on both occasions, and the even better news is that the plays came from Irving and Love. With 7:33 remaining and a 12-point lead, Irving connected on a long jumper that he turned into a traditional three-point play thanks to some crafty maneuvering around his trailing, flailing defender. Then, with 3:20 to go and a 10-point lead, Love nailed technically the biggest three of his career so far, a big-time basket from the corner off a kick-out assist from James. Both baskets went a long way in staving off the Celtics, as well as keeping Thomas from getting too hot down the stretch.
If the Cavs want to have a chance to win a title, both Irving and Love are going to have to play up to their superstar billing and play their part next to the playoff-proven James. Today, no one was perfect in this squad’s playoff debut, although Irving was close, but the results were encouraging regarding Cleveland’s playoff mindset.