Boston, MA — Not even an aggressive flagrant foul at the end of the fourth quarter could stop Al Horford in Game 2.
With 3:37 left in the final stretch, JR Smith pushed an already airborne Horford in the back which began a shoving match between Smith and Marcus Smart. It was a fight that was bound to happen after three-quarters of extremely physical play by the Boston Celtics.
“I mean, we just play hard,” said Al Horford, Celtics forward. “We go out there, we compete. It’s Celtics basketball. We’re really embracing Celtics basketball. We’re playing hard. We’ve got each other’s backs, and that’s it.”
The Celtics took the 2-0 series lead on Tuesday with a 107-94 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it was Boston’s aggressive play and Horford’s 15 points and 10 rebounds — the only double-double on the home team’s boxscore — that helped push past the defending Eastern Conference champs.
In fact, Horford said Smith’s infraction really only sharpened his and his team’s focus.
“I felt like it was uncalled for, that type of play there, but that’s the one thing about the group of our guys,” Horford said. “We have each other’s backs, and it is what it is. We moved on to the next play, and we just locked in even more after that.”
The Celtics outscored the Cavs 23-17 in the final quarter, ending the game with six players scoring in double digits: Jaylen Brown leading the way with 23 points, Terry Rozier with 18, Horford with 15, Marcus Morris with 12 and Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart both with 11.
A drastic contrast to the Cavs boxscore with three plays in double digits scoring and a massive triple-double by Lebron James who finished with a game-high 42 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Kevin Love had 22 points and 15 rebounds, and Kyle Korver scored 11 points.
In addition to that, Horford made Tristan Thompson (a player that hasn’t consistently started in the playoffs) look like a rookie, with the aggressive defense, Thompson ended the game with eight points and seven rebounds.
And the Lebron-dominated Cavs performance wasn’t enough to overcome the team ball that the Cavs are showing; a team known for the deep bench. The younger, quick Celtics punished the aging Cavaliers roster.
“We’ve got to be tougher, mentally and physically,” said Tyronn Lue, head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. “We’ve got to come out swinging. We’ve got to be aggressive. I think we’ve got to be physical, and we’ve got to have a physical mindset, you know, that they’re coming in, playing tough. They’re aggressive, and we’ve got to match that.”
And he’s right – but turning up the aggression is a difficult task. The came out strong in the first quarter, leading 27-23 after the first 12 minutes. And to bring more aggression without bringing more fouls to game three will be a tall task: the Cavs committed 21 fouls in Game 2, while the Celtics committed only 17 (and were the definitely the more aggressive team).
Game three will take place in Cleveland on Saturday. Teams that take a 2-0 lead in seven-game series in the NBA Playoffs are 273-19; that’s a win percentage of 93.5.
Saturday is an important game for the Cavs because historically, teams that go down 0-3 are dead in the water. Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m.