The Celtics beat the Cavaliers by 15 points at home while the Cavs were playing on a back-to-back. The difference in each team’s motivation and stamina was obvious throughout the game as Cavs players did not have the legs to run with the Celtics.
Celtics players were consistently able to lose their defenders and get separation to get open looks. While some may consider this game somewhat of a “scheduled loss” (as Paul Pierce frequently referred to afterwards), the game was still a significant confidence booster for the Celtics. The Celtics now know that they at the very least have the capability to beat the Cavs with a healthy LeBron James in the starting lineup.
It is worth noting that neither LeBron, Kyrie, nor any other player really took over this game. No one wearing a Celtics or a Cavs jersey was able to score more than 20 points. Although, it was apparent that both teams offenses run through their stars. Kyrie smiled and had plenty of fun and led the Celtics in rebounds and assists, and he was the Celtics’ 5th best scorer with 11 points.
While LeBron didn’t necessarily take the game over, he still looked like one of the best athletes of all time and played the most minutes of any of his tired teammates (32, next closest was Crowder at 27), lead the Cavs in assists and scoring with 19 points, and was their second-best rebounder. Both Kyrie and LeBron had a steal as well.
Two guys who ended up stepping up were Jaylen Brown and Kyle Korver. Aside from one play where Jaylen Brown bricked a wide open 3 after waiting long enough for a frozen burrito to defrost, he had a great game and was the Celtics most important contributor aside from Kyrie.
Brown frequently effectively attacked the basket, creating plays for the Celtics all night by either forcing defenders to move off their assignments or by finishing strong at the hoop. Brown ended the game with 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. He put the exclamation point on his night towards the end of the third quarter, when threw this down:
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 4, 2018
Kyle Korver showed some surprising athleticism against the Celtics, frequently passing the ball off just so he could move around and lose his man, and get the ball passed right back to him for an open 3. Korver shot 5 of 8 from the three point line. The only problem was that production was almost entirely limited to the first half. Korver went 4 of 5 from 3 in the first half and didn’t notch his final 3 until the very end of the third quarter.
— NBA (@NBA) January 4, 2018
Coming into the game, many were concerned that Isaiah Thomas might still be harboring some resentment for his former team, former teammates, or former G.M. He appeared to put the kibosh on that talk by hugging it out with many of his former teammates. Thomas even hugged it out with his former GM who traded him to the Cavs, Danny Ainge. It all appeared to be genuine, not just a performance Thomas was putting on for the cameras. He was smiling throughout his many exchanges with former teammates and seemed at peace with the way things have turned out.
The Cavs now fall to third in the Eastern Conference, behind the Raptors in second who have won their last three straight games, and behind the Celtics in first who still sit alone at the top of the East riding a four game winning streak and with a five game lead on the Raptors.