Thursday’s NBA playoff takeaways: Cleveland runs through Boston in Game 2 as Celtics shooting goes cold


Donovan Mitchell paced the Cleveland Cavaliers to a Game 2 victory over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Thursday to even the series at one win apiece.

It was a full team effort, with Evan Mobley setting playoff career highs with 21 points and five assists to go with his 10 rebounds. Isaac Okoro’s 12 points were also a playoff career high, as were Darius Garland’s seven rebounds.

For Boston, a night of horrid shooting did them in at home, hitting just 8 of 35 3-pointers.

It was the Cavaliers’ first road playoff win since Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals, which was also played in Boston. The Celtics, however, fall to 14-14 at home in the playoffs over the last three seasons.

Cavaliers 118, Celtics 94

Series: Tied 1-1

Game 3: Saturday in Cleveland

Cleveland capitalizes on Boston’s weaknesses

This is the team’s first road playoff win under coach J.B. Bickerstaff, but beyond that, this is the first time the Cavs even cracked 100 points on the road in the postseason in six years.

Instead of nickel and diming it any further (yeah, this is the best the Cavs have shot from 3, or overall, in a road playoff game in a long time), let’s just say it: best playoff game under Bickerstaff, period.

There was strict adherence to Bickerstaff’s game plan this time. The Celtics don’t have rim protectors and basically dare you to score inside of 3, and the Cavs took them up on it, especially early. Of the 60 points Cleveland scored in the paint overall, 36 came in the first half.

See, the Cavs hadn’t had a single game the entire postseason — we’re in the second round, mind you — where they’d shot it well, at all. If the deeper shots aren’t falling, at some point, the Cavs were bound to try with the closer ones first. It worked brilliantly. By the game’s end, the Cavs had not only taken advantage of what Boston was giving, but also decimated the Celtics on 3s (13 makes to Boston’s 8).

Mitchell scored 16 of his 29 points in the third quarter — when Cleveland took control of the game for good. Mitchell would have played the entire second half had the Cavs not blown the game to smithereens in the fourth and the Celtics inserted their punt team with about five minutes left.

Bickerstaff had also said Cleveland needed to be better at limiting the Celtics’ 3-point attempts; a considerable task given that Boston is the league’s top 3-point shooting team in terms of attempts, makes, and is second in percentage. But the Cavs succeeded there too. The Celtics were just 8-of-35 from beyond the arc.

The Cavs did a better job making life harder on Jaylen Brown (7-of-17) and Jayson Tatum, despite his 25 points, is struggling to shoot in this series (8-of-17 in Game 2). — Joe Vardon, senior NBA writer

Jayson Tatum shut down, again

The Celtics simply looked cooked in Game 2 in every facet of the game. The Jays could not create reliable offense, nobody could cover Mitchell successfully and Cleveland shot lights out from just about every section of the floor. As they head to Cleveland tied 1-1, the Celtics need to turn this into another Game 2 wake-up call, just as they did against Miami.

Brown wanted the Mitchell matchup, but he got left in the dust several times. Even when the Celtics tried to trap him in the fourth quarter, he found a way around it to set up Max Strus for an open 3. The irony is that Cleveland shot nearly 50 percent from deep, but Strus was 2-for-7 himself. With the way Mitchell is playing right now and Garland finding his stroke again, Strus could keep Cleveland in this series if his touch returns.

But Strus’ defense has been front and center this whole series. Once again, Tatum tried to score on him in the midrange and failed repeatedly. Boston will have to find a way to get Strus switched off of Tatum, because the Celtics star has no rhythm getting into his pull ups and floaters right now. — Jared Weiss, Celtics beat writer

Was this just a Boston outlier?

The Cavaliers offense struggled through the first eight games of the playoffs. They entered Thursday night ranked 15th out of 16 playoff teams in offensive rating. The only team worse, the New Orleans Pelicans, lost in a first-round sweep. Give the Orlando Magic credit for some of Cleveland’s woes, but scoring had not come easy to the Cavaliers lately.

The Celtics allowed them to shoot 54.7 percent from the field, including 46.4 percent on 3-point attempts. Cleveland owned the paint with 36 points from inside it during the first half, then lit up Boston from outside with seven third-quarter 3-pointers. Mitchell, who controlled the second half with 25 of his 29 points in it, ended that quarter with a stepback 3-pointer over a close Tatum contest.

The Cleveland supporting cast, so quiet in Game 1, pitched in plenty in Game 2. Mobley looked more for his own offense while notching 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He, Mitchell, Garland, Okoro, Strus and Caris LeVert gave the Cavaliers six players in double figures. Tristan Thompson didn’t even play in the first half, but outworked the Celtics on the glass during his second-half stint.

Was this just an outlier? Will the Celtics defense be able to hold down the Cavaliers moving forward? Or did the Cavaliers figure out some things and gain enough confidence to be more threatening over the rest of the series?

The Celtics need to take something away. They can’t let the Cavaliers be efficient from all over the court with everyone involved. — Jay King, Celtics beat writer

Friday’s schedule:

Required reading

(Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images)





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