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Celtics open series with authority, rout Cavs

Special to the Union Leader

May 13. 2018 7:25PM
Boston forward Marcus Morris defends Cleveland forward LeBron James during the third quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

BOSTON — No contest.

Jaylen Brown took the opening tap from Al Horford, sprinted down the floor and scored five seconds into the game — and the Celtics never stopped running.

They trailed 7-4 less than three minutes in but then blew the Cavaliers right out of TD Garden.

“I think we’re very alert to the fact that we’ll get a heavyweight punch on Tuesday night,” Brad Stevens said after Sunday’s 108-83 blowout gave the Celtics the jump in the Eastern Conference finals.

If it’s a heavyweight Cavs and LeBron James that show up on Tuesday, it will starkly contrast the lightweight team that failed to show up for Game 1.

“I have zero level of concern at this stage,” James said after a rare poor playoff outing. “I didn’t go to college, so it’s not March Madness.”

In other wards, it’s NOT one and done.

The Celtics, winning their eighth home games in as many tries in these playoffs, went on a 17-0 run that grew to 28-4, taking a 32-11 lead with 1:48 left in the first quarter.

It was basically over right there.

The Cavs, who missed their first 14 3-point attempts, used a 12-3 run at the end of the third quarter to close to within 14, but the Celtics went on an 18-4 explosion and it was time to clear the bench.

“It’s tough to get behind the 8-ball here, especially when they feed off their crowd,” said JR Smith, who scored four points on 2-for-9 shooting. “So we’ve just got to be better in Game 2.”

Al Horford and Brown were as close to perfect as you can get in a game like this. Horford had 20 points (8-for-10 from the floor), four rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots, while Brown delivered 23 points and eight rebounds.

“He’s our rock,” Stevens said of Horford. He’s the guy we really, really lean on.”

Morris, who, making his first Celtics playoff start, picked up two early fouls and then got help from his friends on James, clicked for 21 points and 10 boards (his first career postseason double-double). Jayson Tatum had 16 points and six rebounds while posting a plus-27.

The Celtics outscored the visitors 60-38 in the paint and Cleveland finished 4-for-26 from 3-point range.

James, who came in averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game in the playoffs, was gone with 7:10 left — after being hounded into a 5-for-16/15-point game by Morris & Co. Nothing came easy for James, who had seven of his team’s 10 turnovers. He did register nine assists and seven rebounds.

“We’ve got to help ’Bron,” Smith said. “We can’t just expect him to do everything. As role players, we’ve got to play our role.”

Said James: “Game 1 has always been a feel-out game for me. I think they had a great game plan in Game 1.”

James was a minus-26 in the first half, breaking his personal plus/minus postseason worst by a point. He finished the game a minus-32, matching his career playoff worst, in the second-worst Game 1 playoff loss of his career.

“He’s obviously not going to have many games like that,” said Stevens, well aware of not wanting to poke the bear.

As far as his own team, Stevens said, “I thought our guys were locked in, and we’re just going to have to be like that again Tuesday night.”

Said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue: “We didn’t play well. We understand that. We know we have to be better.

“I thought early on they really attacked us in the paint. Having 60 paint points is way too many. But they played a good game.”

Asked if the layoff following their sweep of Toronto may have been a factor, said, “No, we just didn’t play well.”

Kyle Korver, who scored five points and hit one of his five 3-point shots, shook the day off by saying, “Just one bad game. Bad first game. There’s lots we need to do better for the next one.”

NOTES: Backup point guard Shane Larkin was declared out of at least Games 1 and 2 for the Celtics with his shoulder injury. Safe to say they didn’t miss his depth contribution in Game 1. … Patriots owner Robert Kraft was seated in what has become his customary playoff seat under one of the baskets. … The 18-point lead after one quarter was the second-highest first-quarter lead in Celtics playoff history. They led the Milwaukee Bucks by 19 on May 3, 1974. Meanwhile, James also faced his largest first-quarter deficit in a conference final. … Horford, who averaged 12 points per game in last year’s conference final, had 11 in the first quarter Sunday. He also registered his fifth 20-point game of this postseason, two more than in any of his seven playoff appearances. … Tatum had his club-record streak of 20-point games stopped at seven, tied for the second-longest rookie streak in NBA playoff history.