The double-digit deficit the Celtics faced late in the first half of Game 2 did not faze Terry Rozier. Boston had weathered an incredible first quarter by LeBron James and stayed in touching distance of the Cavaliers. The Celtics point guard knew what his teammates were capable of down the stretch.
“We’re gonna fight. We’re gonna fight until there’s zeroes on the clock,” Rozier said after the Celtics’ 107-94 victory. “That’s pretty much been us. We been coming back from down no matter how much we been all season. So, we’re gonna fight and we’re gonna win.”
That they did. Rozier finished with 18 points as part of a balanced offensive performance by the Celtics. On the other side of the floor, Cleveland was anything but balanced. James had a triple-double (42 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) and Kevin Love added 22 more points, neither were playing as the final moments ticked away as their 64 points were swallowed up by the Celtics’ tally.
Here are few of the pivotal plays from Game 2:
Aron Baynes battled with Larry Nance Jr.
On the first possession of the second quarter, Semi Ojeleye found Aron Baynes in space under the basket. Baynes put up a shot that fell back off the rim, then jumped for the rebound. The ball came down between Baynes and Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr., and neither player was interested in sharing politely.
PLAYOFF BASKETBALL 😡 pic.twitter.com/S2C56g1eKK
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 16, 2018
Both men went to ground, ripping for possession long after the jump ball whistle had blown. The floor battle did not lead to an immediate surge for the Celtics, but the physical tone Baynes set paid dividends throughout Game 2.
“They’re playing tougher than we are. We see that,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said after the loss. “They’re being physical. They’re gooning the game up and we’ve got to do the same thing. We’ve got to be tougher mentally and physically.”
LeBron took a Jayson Tatum hit to the chin.
James’s chin had a surprise meeting with Tatum’s shoulder right before halftime.
The Cavaliers superstar tried to take Rozier down the baseline, but when Boston’s rookie came over to help he connected with James’s jaw. James left the game and went to the locker room. He returned to the game soon after, following evaluations that he said checked for “multiple things, and I passed them all.”
“I felt like I needed to go back to the locker room, which I did, and kind of recalibrate,” James said. “It was a tough, tough blow. Obviously incidental, his shoulder hit me right square in my jaw so just had to go back and make sure everything was fine. I don’t think it really affected my game after that.”
— ESPN (@espn) May 16, 2018
Lue was less sure the injury had no effect on the rest of James’s night.
“It was a tough collision,” Lue said. “Knocked his head sideways. Of course, he came back; but when he came back, I don’t think he had the same punch that he had before he left as far as attacking the basket, playing with that force and power we talked about at shootaround. We’ll see how he feels.”
Celtics guard Marcus Smart said the incident, and James’s abasence from the game, “was big” for the Celtics.
“I don’t think Jayson was intentionally trying [to hurt James],” Smart said. “He was trying to make a basketball play; it just happened. He went out, and it allowed us to pick up our pressure even more.”
Rozier threw down a dunk after Brown stole the ball.
Late in the third quarter, Jaylen Brown poked the ball away from a Cavalier to spring Rozier for a fast-break. Rozier took full advantage of the opportunity. Ignoring the 3-time NBA champion famous for chase-down blocks hot on his heels, Rozier slammed home a tomahawk dunk. (James would get a small measure of revenge in the fourth quarter when he swatted a Rozier layup into oblivion.)
🔨 SCARY TERRY 🔨 pic.twitter.com/0Wtfbq4Ksl
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 16, 2018
Rozier’s dunk sent the TD Garden crowd into hysterics, and the Celtics closed out the third quarter with a seven-point lead.
Marcus Smart jumped in to defend Al Horford.
Smart wasted no time in approaching J.R. Smith after the Cavaliers guard shoved Horford while the center was in midair. Horford landed hard and got up gingerly from the parquet. While he was taking stock of his back pain, Smart was getting up close and personal with the player who caused it.
Smart bumped Smith, who shoved him back twice, and both players received technicals. Smith was assessed a flagrant foul for the push on Horford.
Marcus Smart had Al Horford's back. 😠 pic.twitter.com/Q18NctWeSD
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 16, 2018
“I felt it was uncalled for, thaat type of play there,” Horford said. “But that’s the one thing about our group of guys. We have each other’s backs, and it is what it is. We moved on to the next play and we were just locked in even more after that.”
Smart compared the incident to standing up to a bully.
“That’s me. That’s how I was raised,” he said. “I’m the youngest of four boys. My whole life I had to fight. I had to get down and do things in order to secure my spot in the household. So coming on to the court it’s nothing different.”
Smart got an incredible put-back to drop.
Smart again. With just over six minutes remaining in the game, Al Horford fired up a three-point attempt with the shot clock expiring. The ball clanked off the glass and rim, then bounced into the path of an onrushing Tatum. He tried to swoop past the Cleveland defense and lay it in, but the ball leaked out. Luckily for Tatum, his teammate was flying through the air. Smart caught the rebound and threw up a shot off the backboard, which found the netting.
Marcus Smart ladies and gentleman. pic.twitter.com/qaWTH297tn
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 16, 2018
A defensive stop on the play and a three-pointer on the next possession would have cut the Cavs’ lead to six in crunch time. Instead, Smart’s willingness to sacrifice his body put the Celtics up nine.