Friday's NBA playoffs: Cavaliers send Celtics to record loss, lead series 2-0
Boston — An NBA playoff-record, 41-point halftime lead. A franchise record for total points. A 13th consecutive playoff win, tying another league record.
And LeBron James says the Cleveland Cavaliers can still do better.
“I believe we’ve got another level, as well,” he said after Cleveland steamrolled the Boston Celtics with 130-86 on Friday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. “As well as we played tonight, we’ve got a couple of things we can do better. There’s no complacency for us now. But we like where we’re headed.”
Minutes after the NBA announced the three finalists for the MVP award — and James wasn’t among them — the Cavaliers star scored 30 points before resting in the fourth quarter. Kevin Love had 21 points and 12 rebounds for Cleveland, which led by 14 points after one quarter, by 72-31 at the half and by 46 after three.
Even with all of the starters sitting out the fourth, the 130 points was the most ever scored by the Cavaliers in a playoff game.
Kyrie Irving had 23 points for the Cavaliers, who return home with a chance to finish off the Celtics in Cleveland. It would be the third straight sweep this postseason for the defending NBA champions, who also won the last three games of last year’s finals.
Game 3 is Sunday night.
“It’s one game. I don’t care if you win by 200 points,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’re going back home, we’re not going to get comfortable. We understand that this is a good team. They’re not No. 1 in the East for no reason.”
The Celtics played the second half without Isaiah Thomas, who had a strained right hip. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the star point guard had a nagging injury that he aggravated a week ago during the second-round series against Washington.
Asked how much that hurt his team, Stevens said, “Not 44 points worth.”
“I don’t want to put that on any one guy,” he said. “Ultimately, they were terrific. We were poor. You’ve got to be able to pick up the slack, certainly, when other guys aren’t available.”
With both teams going to their benches in the fourth, the only suspense was whether the Celtics could avoid the worst playoff loss in franchise history. The Orlando Magic beat them by 47 points in the first round of the 1995 postseason.
Still, it was the worst home playoff loss ever for the most-decorated franchise in NBA history.
“It is embarrassing,” guard Avery Bradley said. “As a man, as a basketball team, it will say a lot about us how we respond.”
Thomas finished with just a pair of free throws, missing all six shots from the field. Rookie Jaylen Brown scored a career playoff-high 19 points for Boston.
The game tipped off about 15 minutes after the NBA announced that James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard were the finalists for the MVP award — the first time since 2008 that James won’t finish in the top three.
Lue chuckled when he found out after the game that James was not a finalist.
“You’ve got to give the award to different people every now and then,” Lue said. “But to me, LeBron’s the MVP.”
James, a four-time MVP, said he did not see the list before the game.
“My only job is to try to be the MVP for this team every night,” he said. “I know what I bring to the table. This league knows what I bring to the table.”
James still has a chance for a fourth NBA title — and second in a row. Maybe Golden State can figure out a way to slow him down, or San Antonio, if it can come back in the West. The Celtics haven’t found a way, and they’re running out of time.
James had 22 points in the first half, when had six of his seven assists and all three of his blocked shots, including a chase-down rejection of Bradley that was reminiscent of the one against Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
That one was critical to clinching Cleveland’s first championship since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964.
This one more like rubbing the Celtics’ noses in the fact that they just couldn’t stop him.
After outsprinting the Cavaliers to the No. 1 seed in the East and home-court advantage in the final weeks of the season, the Celtics squandered it by losing both games in Boston — without ever having a lead.
“It’s hard to take,” Al Horford said. “We’ve worked really hard and put ourselves in this position to be here. It’s been tough for our group. Tonight was real rough, there’s no other way to put it. It’s definitely a low point for our group.”