All of the questions regarding how LeBron James would respond to his sprained and bruised right elbow were answered on Saturday as James led his Cleveland Cavaliers to a 101-93 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The win came just hours before he won his second straight MVP award and once again delivered an outstanding performance to put the Cavs up 1-0 in the best of seven series. Whatever discomfort James felt in his elbow obviously did not have an impact on his game.
“It’s been better,” James said of his elbow. “But that’s no excuse for me. I don’t make any excuses and I’ll be ready for (Game 2) Monday.”
Cleveland and Boston have now met for the second time in three years in the conference semi’s. In 2008, the Celtics won the series and went on to win the championship. For the first three quarters of Saturday’s game, it seemed as though they were as strong as they were that year.
The Celtics went into halftime with a 54-43 lead and appeared to be in command of the game. The second half was a different story as the Cavaliers outscored the Celtics 58-39 in the final two quarters.
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The Celtics came within one late in the fourth, but James put the Cavaliers ahead 94-91 after driving the lane and putting back in his own missed shot with just 4:30 left. Kevin Garnett then got Boston back within one, but once again James responded with a floater in the lane.
Boston’s Paul Pierce would then miss a wide-open 3-point attempt and Shaquille O’Neal then scored on a tip-in to increase the Cavs lead to five. After a Boston turnover, James would put the final nail in the coffin with a 3-pointer with just 22 seconds left.
Boston had been criticized lately for lackluster play at the end of the regular season. James, who led the Cavs with 35 points, would have nothing to do with all the talk and knows this will be a tough series.
“Everyone was saying how bad Boston was and they don’t look motivated anymore, but I never fell into that trap,” James said. “They know the big picture.”
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Rajon Rondo led Boston with 27 points and 12 assists. Now down 0-1, the Celtics must find a way to steal a game on the road Monday to get the series at 1-1. Boston head coach Doc Rivers realizes his team must respond positively in Game 2 as this is going to be a hard fought series.
“This not going to be easy for either team, you can see that,” Rivers said.
According to NBA sportsbooks, Cleveland has their odds set at 4/9 and Boston at 10/1 to win the 2010 Eastern Conference.