Game Two of the East Finals proved to be predictable. As expected, the Cavaliers moved to land the “heavyweight punch” that Celtics head coach Brad Stevens anticipated after the hosts walked away with the series opener. And, as expected, it came in the form of LeBron James early and often; just seven minutes and change had elapsed before the four-time National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player surpassed the 15 he put up in his immediate past outing. History said he was not going to come up with a second straight clunker, and he didn’t.
If the Cavaliers thought they would be due to deliver a knockout, however, they were mistaken. Again, as expected, the Celtics hung tough, falling behind by double digits in the midst of the clinic James was putting up, and yet managing to bring back the deficit to a manageable seven at the half. And so determined and resolute were the green and white that by the time the third quarter ended, the tide had changed for good. The relentless pressure induced an implosion that effectively made the final 12 minutes a testament to the power of confidence and sheer will.
In retrospect, the Cavaliers were, perhaps, unlucky to find James on the wrong end of a collision near the close of the first half; he suffered from a whiplash that had him heading to the locker room with 3:48 on the clock. He would check back in less than two minutes later with the lead still at 10, but the neck strain wound up tamping down his aggressiveness for the remainder of the contest. The ensuing predictability of the offense he headed told on them; they would score only 39 markers after the break, a no-no given their porous work on the other end of the court.
For the Cavaliers, the good news is that they have three days to make more adjustments to their game plan, which should coax more production from their starting guards. And, yes, James has twice led his teams to triumph from zero and two down, the 2016 Finals included. The bad news is that the Celtics have proven to be their kryptonite; any move they make has so far been trumped. Clearly, he has to be otherworldly for them to prevail. Otherwise, the result will be just as yesterday’s match turned out: predictable.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.