Akron Beacon Journal
BOSTON (TNS) — It turned out it wasn’t just about a Cavaliers’ fast start.
It wasn’t about how LeBron James would respond after a quiet 15-point effort as the Boston Celtics rolled in the opener.
Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals was about who has the more well-balanced team and who could take a punch, which almost became a literal issue.
The Celtics prevailed on both counts in a hotly contested physical battle, while the Cavs reverted to their performance from the first-round series against the Pacers, when they had three players in double figures on most nights.
James poured in 21 points of his 42 points in the first quarter, but it still wasn’t enough before a thunderous crowd in TD Garden, where the Celtics seem invincible.
The Celtics rallied from an 11-point second-quarter deficit for a 107-94 victory, improving to 9-0 at home in the postseason.
The Celtics will take a 2-0 series lead into Game 3 Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena. The Celtics are 37-0 in a best-of-seven series when they have started 2-0.
On the Cavs side, they can still point to their history-making rally from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
James shot 16-of-29 from the field, including 5-of-11 from long range, and 5-of-10 free throws with 10 rebounds and 12 assists, but committed six of the Cavs’ 15 turnovers. Kevin Love added 22 points and 15 rebounds, and Kyle Korver contributed 11 points, all in the second quarter.
The Celtics committed just five turnovers, which led to five Cavs’ points, while the Cavs’ miscues led to 13 points for the Celtics.
The physicality matched the decibel level in TD Garden, with high-pitched screams befitting the importance of the game.
J.R. Smith pushed Celtics’ center Al Horford as he leaped for an alley oop pass with 3:49 to play and it resulted in a fight between Smith and Marcus Smart. Smith was called for flagrant and technical fouls, and Smart received a technical.
That was just a slice of the game’s brutality.
Larry Nance Jr. and Aron Baynes wrestled for a rebound to start the second quarter, rolling on the court several times before a jump ball was called.
Jayson Tatum repeatedly pushed off on James in the first half and James took a shot to the face/jaw from the Celtics rookie that forced James to the locker room with a neck strain with 3:48 left in the second quarter.
At that point, James had 24 points, four rebounds and four assists and had made 9-of-15 field goals, 4-of-7 3s and 2-of-6 free throws. James returned with 1:57 left before the half.
The Cavs led 61-52 with 10:09 remaining in the third period when the Celtics put it together. They outscored the Cavs 32-16 the rest of the way to take an 84-77 lead.
Terry Rozier, a Youngstown native and Shaker Heights High School product, was not a factor in Game 1. Rozier came alive, scoring 14 points during that surge and did it in a variety of ways — with two 3-pointers, a dunk, two free throws and two jumpers. Rozier finished with 18 points.
Marcus Morris, who outscored James in the series opener, kept up the offensive assault in that quarter-ending surge and backup center Aron Baynes put in an alley oop from Smart and after a James turnover hit a crucial 3 for a 79-74 Celtics lead with 2:39 left in the third quarter.
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
The Celtics went on a 9-0 run at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, opening an 88-77 advantage.
After being outscored 60-38 in the paint in Game 1, Lue started Tristan Thompson at center, pushing Love to his natural spot at power forward and Korver to the second unit.
That move proved crucial in the second quarter.
As the Cavs took 27-23 lead after the first period, James had little help; no other Cavs player totaled more than two points.
But Korver gave the Cavs a reliable scorer in the second unit and he pitched in 11 points in the second quarter, making 4-of-5 shots, including 2-of-2 from deep. Lue wisely avoiding putting Korver on Brown, pulling Korver quickly when Brown subbed in.
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