LeBron James called to Kevin Love, who started slowly in his first career playoff game.
“You’re good,” LeBron said. “It’s alright. Don’t worry about it. Just play ball.”
Kyrie Irving, also playing his first playoff game, didn’t need such advice.
Irving scored 30 points, and after going back and forth with the Celtics early, the Cavaliers eventually pulled away for a 113-100 Game 1 win Sunday.
“Big games, you always want to get up for them. It’s what you prepare your whole life for. It’s what you dream of as a kid,” Irving said. “And coming in as a fourth-year player, coming into my first playoff series, just wanted to play well and do whatever it took to win.”
LeBron has played in many bigger games, but he too showed this one meant more. From the onset, he noticeably raised his defensive intensity from the regular season, and that nicely complimented his 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
Love missed his first four shots, including two airballs and a blocked attempt. But he kept finding ways to contribute, hitting the glass hard, keeping the ball moving and taking a couple charges. In time, his scoring came around, and he finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
Irving, on the other hand, came out guns blazing. He scored 20 points in the first half and made his first five 3-point attempts, including this one to end the first half:
The Cavaliers built a 20-point lead in the third quarter, but Boston – as has consistently been the case under Brad Stevens – fought back, going on a 14-0 run. Cleveland had an answer, though, including James Jones’ own buzzer-beating 3-pointer:
The Celtics – led by Isaiah Thomas, who finished with 22 points and 10 assists – competed throughout the final quarter, but they got no closer than 10.
If Boston wins a game in this series, its advantage will be effort. In Game 1, that wasn’t enough.
Will that change in Game 2 or beyond? Not if LeBron, Irving and Love keep playing like this. As long as the Cavaliers’ top talent keeps delivering – even without dominating – that should be enough against the Celtics.
But make no mistake: Boston will play hard enough to force LeBron, Irving and Love to do that or pay the price.