The Celtics dominated the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday.
Boston built a 21-point lead in the first quarter, led by at least 14 the rest of the way and cruised to a 108-83 win. The Celtics bottled up LeBron (15 points on 5-of-16 shooting, nine assists, seven rebounds and seven turnovers). Cleveland got outscored by 32 with him on the floor – tied for his worst-ever plus-minus in a playoff game.
Afterward, LeBron sounded as if he were just toying with Boston.
“Game 1 has always been,” LeBron said, “a feel-out game for me.
“I have zero level of concern at this stage. I didn’t go to college, so it’s not March Madness.”
The NBA playoffs aren’t single-elimination. But every game carries significant weight in a best-of-seven series. Should LeBron be so dismissive of what the Celtics accomplished in Game 1?
He has earned the right to be.
LeBron has won just 61% of his Game 1s, his worst mark of any game in a series:
That’s especially astounding, because LeBron’s teams are usually good enough in the regular season to secure home-court advantage and open series at home. (Game 1 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals was in Boston.) The Cavs and Heat have played 66% of their Game 1s with LeBron at home.
With a simple baseline of expecting LeBron to win at home and lose on the road, Game 1s are the only time he loses more than expected:
Of course, LeBron’s frequent deep playoff runs means he usually turns it around after a Game 1 setback.
Teams that lost Game 1 of a best-of-seven series have won it just 23% of the time. LeBron’s teams have won 56% of the time.
Here are the 16 times LeBron’s teams previously dropped Game 1, including the nine series victories:
- Cavaliers lost to Pistons in 2006 second round
- Cavaliers beat Pistons in 2007 conference finals
- Cavaliers lost to Spurs in 2007 NBA Finals
- Cavaliers lost to Celtics in 2008 second round
- Cavaliers lost to Magic in 2009 conference finals
- Heat beat Bulls in 2011 conference finals
- Heat beat Thunder in 2012 NBA Finals
- Heat beat Bulls in 2013 second round
- Heat beat Spurs in 2013 NBA Finals
- Heat beat Pacers in 2014 conference finals
- Heat lost to Spurs in 2014 NBA Finals
- Cavaliers beat Bulls in 2015 second round
- Cavaliers lost to Warriors in 2015 NBA Finals
- Cavaliers beat Warriors in 2016 NBA Finals
- Cavaliers lost to Warriors in 2017 NBA Finals
- Cavaliers beat Pacers in 2018 first round
So, LeBron can taunt the Celtics a bit by calling what they hope is their breakthrough victory just “a feel-out game.”
It’s harder down 1-0 than up 1-0, and LeBron has shown cracks this season. There’s no guarantee he digs himself out of this hole.
But he, more than anyone, deserves the benefit of the doubt.