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First-half avalanche buries Celtics as Cavs tie NBA record with 13th consecutive playoff victory

By Marla Ridenour • May 19, 2017 at 11:15 PM

BOSTON — Just before tipoff Friday night in TD Garden, the NBA announced that Cavaliers star LeBron James was not among the league's three MVP finalists for the first time since 2008.

James came out in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden and played like a man scorned.

On Thursday, Kyrie Irving was not among 15 players selected to three All-NBA teams.

Irving came out in front of a hostile crowd that included Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end Rob Gronkowski and owner Robert Kraft and showed the Super Bowl champions his championship mettle, igniting the Cavs with nine points in the first quarter.

The Celtics were supposed to be the team with the chip on their shoulder, especially after rallying from an 0-2 deficit against the Chicago Bulls in the first round.

But the Cavs played like a team possessed, a team driven to defend its title, and crushed the Celtics, 130-86, to take a 2-0 series lead.

Games 3 and 4 will be Sunday and Tuesday in Cleveland, where the Celtics will fight to regain their pride and stave off elimination. With Friday's performances of James, Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavs' third consecutive series sweep looks imminent.

James scored at least 30 points for a career-high eighth consecutive playoff game. He totaled 30 points, four rebounds and seven assists in 33 minutes, hitting 10 of 18 from the field, 4 of 6 from 3-point range and 2 of 4 free throws.

Love followed up a 32-point, 12-rebound effort in Game 1 with 21 points and a game-high 12 rebounds in 27 minutes. He connected on 7 of 14 field goals and 4 of 9 from long range.

Irving, held to 11 points in the series opener, added 23 points and three assists in 29 minutes, hitting 8 of 11 shots, 3 of 6 beyond the arc.

Lue lifted his starters with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter.

Celtics star Isaiah Thomas did not play in the second half with a right hip strain. He scored only two points in 17 minutes, missing all six field-goal attempts, while contributing six assists and three rebounds. Rookie Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 19 points off the bench.

The Cavaliers recorded their 13th consecutive playoff victory, tying the league record held by the Los Angeles Lakers (1988-89). The Cavs' streak dates back to Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals. They are 10-0 in this postseason.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue didn't fear overconfidence coming in, well aware of how the Celtics had rallied in the Bulls series.

"This team has fight. They're going to scrap, we know that," Lue said of the Celtics. "We played well, we've got to come out tonight and try to duplicate that. But no way are we getting overconfident just by winning one game."

Meanwhile, Thomas was confident and insisted the Celtics weren't intimidated by the Cavs.

"We're not scared of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars," Thomas said at practice Thursday. "They're not on Space Jam."

He might have changed his mind by midway through the second quarter.

The Cavs held the Celtics to 39 points in the first half of Game 1, a season-low by a Cavs' opponent. That statistic was erased Friday when the Cavs opened a 72-31 margin after 24 minutes. The 41-point halftime lead was the largest in NBA playoff history, surpassing the Pistons' 40-point margin over the Bullets in 1987.

The Celtics played so poorly that coach Brad Stevens was called for a technical foul by official Scott Foster with 10:37 left in the second quarter.

With 3:51 left in the same period, Celtics radio analyst Cedric Maxwell waved a red flag at Cavs analyst Jim Chones and the rest of the Cleveland crew sitting one row below him.

The Celtics shot 3 for 14 from the field to start Game 1 and were just as abysmal in Game 2, connecting on 6 of 21 shots in the first quarter as the Cavs took a 32-18 lead.

The Cavs continued to dominate the paint, but this time it was not James, but Irving. The Cavs hit 7 of 9 shots in the paint in the first quarter and Irving went 4 for 4 on drives to the basket.

A 12-0 first-quarter run that included five points each from Irving and Love helped the Cavs open a 23-10 lead at the 3:38 mark. But that was just the beginning of the Celtics' unraveling.

The Cavs scored eight consecutive points over the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second to take a 38-18 lead on Kyle Korver's free throw after the Stevens technical, and the Celtics were toast.

As complimentary as Stevens was of the Cavs after the series opener, he didn't believe a defeatist attitude would creep into the Celtics' minds.

"Everybody in the world knows that they're good," Stevens said of the Cavs. "We kind of go through the typical season progression of how good they are and then in March and April we've got to answer all the questions about what's wrong with Cleveland, and it's like, 'Oh, they're going to be fine, trust us,' and then now they're right who they are.

"We've been built in a way of having a chip on your shoulder, competing ... There should be no more fun challenge if you're a basketball player than playing against the best. That should be as good as it gets."

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(c)2017 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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