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Cavs must help Donovan Mitchell to have a chance against Boston

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell, front, grabs a rebound next to Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday.
Charles Krupa
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell, front, grabs a rebound in front of Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday during the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in Boston.

The Cavs were blown out in their Eastern Conference semifinal opener in Boston Tuesday night, 120-95. Ideastream Public Media's sports commentator Terry Pluto says this series will be a tough test for a team that's coming off its first playoff series win without LeBron James since 1993.

“That alone was an achievement, because it seemed the only way the Cavs would do anything in the postseason was to have LeBron. So, they basically got over that mountain," Pluto said. "The problem is, it’s sort of like if you're hiking in the Rockies or somewhere, you get over one mountain, get the nice scenery, you take a breath, then you go down and real quickly, here comes another mountain. Only it's a bigger one with a steeper climb and more rocks. And that's Boston.”

The Boston Celtics had the NBA’s best record in the regular season, 64-18. They also have the best record at home, 37-4. 

“And (they're) the NBA's team that scores the most points, and the NBA's team that actually ranked number two in defense,” Pluto said. “They were rested. They were ready. They were home. Common sense would say Boston should win easily and this time common sense was right.”

Boston was also fresh coming into the series, having six days of rest after winning their first round in only five games. The Cavs had just grinded out a tough, seven-game series win on Sunday.

Pluto said the Celtics were able to expose Cleveland’s weaknesses in Game 1.

“They were quicker than the Cavs, (and) a really disappointing thing to me is they should not have outrebounded the Cavs as badly as they did. But Boston did, on the boards. And I think some of that was energy,” Pluto said.

Meanwhile, Cavs star Donovan Mitchell led all scorers with 33 points. It was Mitchell's third straight game with more than 30 points, and the sixth time in a row he has topped the number in a playoff series opener. Only Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain have done that. Jordan did it three times.

Cleveland got 17 points and 13 rebounds from Evan Mobley, but the bench provided just 15 points Tuesday night.

“An interesting comment was made by Boston's coach Joe Mazzulla, who said, ‘You notice Donovan is great. He scored 50 points, but they lost.’ He said, ‘My hope is we want to take care of …’ what he called the players on the margin. In other words, the other players on the Cavs. (He) especially mentioned guys like Max Strus and Caris LaVert (and) Darius Garland. He thought if they don't do much, Donovan could do whatever he wants. He's not going outscore us, and we’ll win,” Pluto said.

Pluto said the Cavs must get more support from those “margin” players in game 2 to have a chance to win the series.

“The Celtics, they'll try to make life sort of hard for Donovan Mitchell, but they're not going to throw their whole defense at it. They're going to see if these other guys have not only the ability, but also the poise to step up and have a big game in Boston Garden on the road,” Pluto said.

Pluto cautioned fans to not rule Cleveland out just yet.

“I think we should learn one thing for the playoffs: What happens in the first game doesn't necessarily mean, well, that's just it. Forget it. It is (the) best of seven (games). And as crazy as that Orlando series was for the Cavs, remember they were pretty in control their first two home games. And then when they travel to Orlando, the Cavs lost the next two games by a grand total of 61 points. Then they slugged it out through the seven games," Pluto said. "But I will say this is not Orlando, which was a young, talented team. This is Boston. Let’s put it this way: Basically, a middle-aged, talented team in its prime.”

Corrected: May 8, 2024 at 10:29 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled Darius Garland's name.
Corrected: May 8, 2024 at 9:09 AM EDT
This story was updated to reflect the correct score of Game 1 of the Cavaliers-Celtics series.
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