Game 2 Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics

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Nearly a year ago, LeBron James was at a turning point in his career. The Cleveland Cavaliers lost at home 108-97 to the Golden State Warriors and trailed by a seemingly-insurmountable three games to one. It was the seventh NBA Finals appearance of James’ career, but he had only hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy twice. Perhaps you may have heard … Michael Jordan made six NBA Finals appearances and won the title and Finals MVP all six times.

James’ career is a redemption story that seems like it was scripted in Hollywood. As a 22-year-old, James dragged a Cavaliers team that started — get this — Sasha Pavlovic and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson to an NBA Finals only to be swept by the Spurs. Unable to win in Cleveland, James became the NBA’s greatest villain by abandoning his home-state fans to win rings in mercenary fashion in Miami. But then came the plot twist you knew had to happen, with James defeating the NBA’s new villains — Draymond Green and the Golden State Warriors — in historic fashion to deliver Cleveland its first pro sports championship in 52 years.

We all know the story, but by avoiding a fifth loss in seven Finals appearances, LeBron James has placed himself firmly in the GOAT conversation. This is winning time and it’s what James does. Memo to the Boston Celtics: If you want to win an NBA championship, it’s a good idea to sweep the early rounds. You don’t want to face The King on nine days’ rest.

For Boston, last summer’s free agent signee Al Horford is seeking some redemption of his own. As an Atlanta Hawk, Horford faced James and the Cavaliers in the playoffs three times. Each time, the Hawks were swept in four games. Opening 0-for-6 and hitting his first basket with only 2:39 to play before halftime proved an inauspicious start to Horford’s redemption quest as the Celtics lost 117-104 in Wednesday’s Game 1 at TD Garden.

Boston scrapped, got chippy and got physical, but couldn’t claw its way back from a 61-39 halftime deficit. The Celtics’ bench was a major weapon in the early rounds, and outscored Cleveland’s 34-14. But it wasn’t nearly enough to offset the dominance of the Cavaliers’ starters. Tristan Thompson, an old Horford nemesis, scored a playoff career-high 20 points with nine rebounds compared to 11 and eight for Horford. Boston must find a way to win that matchup while figuring out how to hold Kevin Love below the 32 points and 12 rebounds he recorded in Game 1.

Game 2 Prediction

The NBA favored the Celtics with an extremely light travel schedule after the All-Star break. Boston traveled fewer than half the miles of the average NBA team during that final span of the regular season. And — as mentioned — the Celtics got quality minutes from its bench in the earlier rounds. If any team in the East has a chance to overcome Cleveland’s rest advantage, it’s Boston. But it won’t happen in Game 2. For Horford to notch that first playoff win over LeBron, he’ll have to do it in Cleveland.