Cleveland outscored Boston, 34-18, in the first in Game 4. The Cavs are their best selfies when they get of to a hot start.
Before the Cavaliers tied their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Celtics at two apiece with a 111-102 Game 4 win on Monday, they outscored their opponent 34-18 in the first quarter. It was another sign that the Cavaliers continue to play their best basketball when they get out to a hot start instead of playing catch-up basketball later in the game.
First quarters are a barometer for success for this Cavs team
In Game 1, LeBron scored five points in the first quarter. His teammates combined to score 13, and the Cavaliers were doubled up in the opening period, 36-18, and eventually lost by 25. In Game 2, James scored 21 first-quarter points on 8-of-13 shooting. His teammates, though, only scored six points in that period, and even though the Cavs built a four-point lead in the first, James’s 42-point performance wasn’t enough. Cleveland eventually lost by 13.
In the first quarter of Game 3, the Cavaliers finally struck the right chord. LeBron scored 12 points, but an aggressive George Hill scored 11 on 3-of-6 shooting from three. The Cavs opened with a 20-4 run and jumped out to a 15-point lead entering the second quarter. They never looked back and absolutely pounded the Celtics by 30 to regain some momentum in this playoff series.
And in Game 4, Cleveland absolutely blasted Boston in the first quarter and jumped ahead by 19 points in the second. Eight different Cavaliers players scored in that opening period, led by LeBron, of course, with 11 points on 100 percent shooting. James finished Game 4 with 44 points, but three other Cavs scored in double figures with another two scoring nine.
It’s not just this series, either.
When the Pacers ran up into Quicken Loans Arena and swiped Game 1 from beneath Cleveland’s feet, the result came as no surprise after Indy jumped out to a 33-12 first-quarter lead. And when the Cavaliers eventually escaped that first-round series in Game 7 — bruised and battered, but unbeaten — it was a 31-19 lead in the first quarter that gave them enough cushion to absorb a few Pacers runs before staving them off late in the fourth quarter.
This is what the Cavaliers have to do
Much like the defending champion Golden State Warriors, Cleveland has been plagued by slow starts and powered by hot ones. That’s the kind of energy the Cavaliers (and the Warriors) have to bring to the table from the opening tip. If they don’t, they can fall behind and be forced to play catch-up for the rest of the night.
The Cavaliers can’t afford to take any possessions off, let alone entire quarters. Against a scrappy, talented and well-coached team like these Celtics, Cleveland has to give its all from the jump. That’s why a a five-point or a 21-point opening quarter won’t necessarily work. It has to be a well-rounded attack led by Cleveland’s star. That’s how it was in both Games 3 and 4.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 20, 2018
Kevin Love only had two points in the first quarter of Game 3, but he snatched down five rebounds and was aggressive looking for his shot. So was J.R. Smith, who shot 1-of-4 in the first but finished 3-of-4 from three-point range, often looking to the sky as to say, “finally, I got one to drop.”
Of course there was James, who finished with 27 points and 12 assists. But those 12 dimes hit seven different targets, according to ESPN, helping six Cavs players in total score in double figures with another two finishing with eight and nine. Cleveland was free to move that ball around because they didn’t have the pressure of playing catch up early on.
The same happened on Monday. Hill and Tristan Thompson each scored 13, and Kyle Korver lit it up with 14 off the bench. Then, of course, there was James’s monster 44-point night on 17-of-28 shooting.
The question at this point should be if this type of first-quarter success is something the Cavs can sustain throughout this series. But I was quickly reminded that sustainability and this Cavaliers team are equivalent to mixing oil and water. This is something the Cavaliers have to do. They can’t leave it to chance.