Hero Baller: LeBron James & Kevin Love

“The energy was there from the start.”—LeBron James

General manager (ahem) LeBron James knew what he was doing when he orchestrated his exit from Miami and made sure the Cleveland Cavaliers had the Kevin Love for a pair of No. 1 picks—Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett—deal done on ice before King James committed his name to the dotted line for his homecoming to The Land.

It was for moments like this, Tuesday night—not to mention last year’s NBA championship run—when Cleveland’s bookend forwards LeBron and Love could combine for 70 points on only 40 shots and make the game look easy en route to a table-setting 117-104 East Finals Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics on their floor in TD Garden.

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

“LeBron is playing at a high level and that’s the reason we’re riding him so much. When LeBron’s playing at that level, other guys just have to be solid and we have a good chance to win.”—Tyronn Lue

LeBron knew what he was doing in asking Cleveland to part with two No. 1 picks in favor of a sure thing.

In retrospect, it was a great deal.

One-time prospect Bennett is no longer in the NBA, while former Rookie of the Year Wiggins is still learning how to play first-year Minnesota head coach Tom Thibodeau’s brand of defense in what will next become Wiggins’ fourth year as a Timberwolf.

Imagine if that deal did not happen: LeBron would be playing with a team of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Wiggins, Bennett and Tristan Thompson.

After you get through the mistakes of youth and the growing pains, LeBron might have a future in the 2020s decade with some of these guys, but that unit wasn’t going to make it with him on his trek back to the 2015 and 2016 NBA Finals as Love, Irving, Thompson and his team of vets played deep into the past two postseasons (and now working on three).

If LeBron knew nothing else from his time in Miami, he needed to be surrounded by talent, veteran players, three-point shooters, defenders and at fellow All-Star big a la Chris Bosh in Miami who could space the floor for LeBron, like Love did so well in Game 1 Tuesday.

With Love, Kyrie and J.R. Smith spread all along the three-point arc for most of the first quarter—and with center Thompson hovering near the basket—LeBron went to the rim so often, one might have thought he was still in pregame layup line mode.

It really was that easy.

With Boston head coach Brad Stevens employing a strategy of guarding LeBron one-on-one with various Celtics at various times, foolishly daring him to beat each defender, LeBron did just that en route to a game with 38 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists in 42 minutes.

In that first quarter alone, LeBron made all 7 of his field goal attempts in the restricted area, as Cleveland took a 30-19 lead.

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

From there, it seemed like LeBron alternated from scoring the ball himself or passing to Love and letting the former T-Wolves All-Star and current Cavs All-Star Love do work in quarters two through four.

Love ultimately finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds in only 34 minutes as the Cavs stretched the lead at halftime, 61-39, and maintained, 92-75, after three quarters.

As for Love in Game 1, he would score from afar—making 6-of-9 three-pointers, while also relentlessly punishing the Celtics at the free throw line, going 8-for-9, as did LeBron, making 9-of-11 at the stripe.

We would be remiss without mentioning fellow big and starting center Thompson also had a field day feasting off Celtics in the paint, scoring 20 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in 34 minutes, with all of his points coming in the paint or at the line (6-for-10).

It makes one wonder if Boston’s bigs will ever be able to fend off these Cleveland bigs.

Perhaps in the future, but things already are looking dim for Celtics giants this year.

At least the Boston franchise now has a No. 1 draft pick, to go along with their free-agent cap space along and draft-and-stash bigs for next year.

If Game 1 is any indication, they are definitely going to need help in the future.

Players MIN +/- PTS (TSP) 2FG 3FG FT REB AST/TO STL & BLK
LeBron James  42  +17  38 (.670) 13-18  1-6 9-11  9  7/2  2 & 0
Kevin Love  34  +18  32 (.802)  3-7  6-9 8-9  12  0/2  1 & 1

 

Key: MIN minutes; +/- plus-minus; PTS points; TSP true shooting percentage; 2FG 2-point field goals and attempts; 3FG 3-point field goals and attempts; FT free throws and attempts; REB rebounds; AST/TO assists/turnovers; STL & BLK steals and blocks.