Game 1 was never close outside of the initial minutes as Boston opened up a 36-18 lead after the first quarter and led by as many as 29 in a comfortable 108-83 victory.
It was the second time in three series the Cavaliers dropped the opener after falling to Indiana in round one, but the gulf between the teams amplified the result.
It was the second-largest Game 1 loss suffered by James in his career, trailing only the 27-point defeat in the 2006 conference semi-finals.
The Celtics held a significant edge in 3-point shooting – 11-of-30 compared to Cleveland’s 4-of-26 – and points in the paint – 60 to 38.
James’ six-game playoff win streak in Boston came to an end as he registered one of the worst postseason performances of his career, scoring 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting to go with nine assists, seven rebounds, seven turnovers and a team-worst plus-minus of minus-32.
LeBron James with a playoff-high seven turnovers already. He had eight total turnovers in four games against the Raptors.— Brian Robb (@BrianTRobb) May 13, 2018
Despite all the concerning signs that were on display, James played it cool afterward and preached patience.
“I have zero level of concern at this stage,” James said. “I didn’t go to college, so it’s not March Madness. You know, you get better throughout the series. You see ways you can get better throughout the series.
“But I’ve been down 0-1, I’ve been down 0-2, I’ve been down before in the postseason. But for me, there’s never no level of concern, no matter how bad I played tonight with seven turnovers, how inefficient I was shooting the ball.”
The Celtics needed a team effort to keep James in check, but at the centre of that was Marcus Morris, who was inserted into the starting lineup and served as the primary defender on LeBron.
After claiming he was the second-best James defender in the league behind San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard a day before the series tipped off, Morris backed up his talk by holding LeBron to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting and four turnovers in 39 possessions.
“I’m a competitor,” Morris said. “He’s the best player, you know? I’m going to be able to tell my kids [about defending James] one day. It’s exciting. I love the challenge, but like I said, man, it’s a team effort.”
James and the Cavaliers absorbed a haymaker in Game 1. Now, they’ll look to return the favour.
“Game 1 has always been a feel-out game for me, if you’ve ever followed my history,” James said. “So I’ve got a good sense of the way they played me and how I’ll play going into Game 2.”
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