Celtics vs. Cavaliers score: Three things we learned from Game 1 as Boston picks up another blowout win

The Boston Celtics picked up in the second round of these 2024 NBA playoffs where they left off in the first round: with a blowout win. The top-seeded Celtics ran away from the fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night for a 120-95 victory at TD Garden in Game 1 of their second-round series. Jaylen Brown scored a team-high 32 points, Derrick White added 25 and the Celtics notched their fourth win by 20+ points in this postseason.

The Celtics eliminated the Miami Heat in Round 1. They lost Game 2 of that series but won the other four games by an average of 22 points. Boston scored 40 points in the first quarter on Tuesday, built a 10-point halftime lead and kept the Cavs at arm's length throughout the night. The Celtics got the comfortable win despite a quiet night from Jayson Tatum, who scored 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting and missed all five of his 3-point attempts.

Donovan Mitchell, who scored 89 points in the Cavs' final two games of the first round against the Orlando Magic, had a game-high 33 points on 12-for-25 shooting. Cleveland, which was without starting center Jarrett Allen once again due to a rib contusion, shot just 26.2% from 3-point range, however, and made only six of its final 34 attempts.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Boston's Game 1 victory:

1. Donovan Mitchell needs more help

Donovan Mitchell is second in the entire postseason field with 234 points in Cleveland's eight playoff games thus far. The problem the Cavaliers are facing right now is that nobody else on the roster can score consistently. In fact, Mitchell has essentially doubled up his entire roster. Darius Garland is Cleveland's second-leading scorer in the postseason with 118 points. The expensive trio of Garland, Max Strus and Caris LeVert, Cleveland's three other theoretical shot-creators, gave the Cavaliers just 23 points in Game 1.

This disparity is felt most severely when Mitchell goes to the bench. Cleveland lost those minutes by 14 points in Game 1. In the Orlando series, they scored a pathetic 95.1 points per 100 possessions whenever he rested. This isn't rocket science. The Celtics are the deepest team in the NBA when it comes to high-end players. Right now, it looks like Cleveland only has one of them. If this series is going to be at all competitive, somebody besides Mitchell has to be able to score. If that wasn't going to happen against the Magic, it doesn't seem likely to happen against Boston.

2. Derrick White is making a championship leap

Think about every championship team in recent memory. They all have certain similarities. There's always at least one superstar, for example. But lately, there's also been at least one significant win through free agency, a player that a team acquired at a relatively low cost only for him to grow exponentially more valuable in a new setting.

For the Nuggets last year, it was Aaron Gordon. The basketball world didn't know what a devastating off-ball mover he could be because he had no reason to cultivate that skill in Orlando's bland offense. For the 2022 Warriors, it was Andrew Wiggins, who finally embraced defense in a way that he never had in Minnesota. For the 2021 Bucks, it was Brook Lopez going from a defensive negative to a high-end rim-protector. Each of these players were starters before arriving on their championship team, but they all developed in at least one significant way upon arriving, and that turned them into key cogs on a champion.

Well, think about Derrick White before he arrived in Boston. We knew he could defend. His playmaking wasn't quite where it is now, but he could always pass. But in five seasons with the Spurs, he shot just 34.4% from 3-point range on relatively low volume. In Boston, he's up to 38% on reasonable volume. He currently leads the entire playoff field with 28 made 3-pointers in six games, and that shooting has opened up so much more for him offensively. White's pick-and-roll game has become one of Boston's offensive staples. He's capable of leading this offense for stretches, even games at a time.

If Boston does indeed win the championship this season, White is clearly going to wind up being their version of Gordon, Wiggins and Lopez. They got him for one first-round pick and a swap deep in the future. Now? He's basically a max player, the sort of star-in-his-role guard that practically never becomes available on the trade market. Brad Stevens has gotten almost everything right since he took over Boston's front office. White is his greatest victory.

3. Boston's frontcourt depth is holding up

Boston entered the postseason as heavy favorites to win the Eastern Conference, but as we all know, all it takes to turn a favorite into an underdog is a single injury. When Kristaps Porzingis got hurt against the Miami Heat, the window seemingly creaked open very slightly for the rest of the conference. Al Horford is 37. The rest of Boston's front court is unproven on the playoff stage. It looked like someone with the right personnel could take advantage of Boston's bigs.

Well... so much for that. Horford more than held up in his minutes, but the big revelation in Game 1 was that Luke Kornet did as well. Boston won his minutes by 12 points, and he finished the game with 10 rebounds and two blocks. Throw in a brief but effective Xavier Tillman stretch and Boston looked just fine without Porzingis.

Can Boston win the title like this? Probably not. But that isn't the goal here. The Celtics just need to last long enough to get him back, and all reports indicate that is happening sooner rather than later. For now, Boston's trio of healthy bigs look more than capable of the task at hand. All three bring different traits to the table. Horford's shooting, passing and basketball IQ have allowed him to remain viable far beyond a typical NBA center's lifespan. Kornet is so long that he can contest practically anything near the rim. Tillman guarded LeBron James for the majority of a series last postseason. He can get out on the perimeter and switch when the matchup dictates it. Few teams have this kind of versatility in their front-court rotations. Fewer have it when their best big man is out.

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FINAL: Celtics 120, Cavaliers 95

The Boston Celtics looked every bit the No. 1 overall seed they are on Tuesday as the dominated the Cleveland Cavaliers en route to a dominating Game 1 victory in their second-round series. Jaylen Brown led the way with 32 points, but it was an overall shooting display from Boston, as the Celtics hit 18 3-pointers in the victory. Donovan Mitchell gave Cleveland 33 points in the first three quarters, but after giving so much at the end of the Orlando series, the Celtics ran away with the game when he took a break at the beginning of the fourth. No other Cavalier even reached 20 points, and if Cleveland is going to compete in this series, it is going to need more offense out of its supporting cast.

May 8, 2024, 1:18 AM
May. 07, 2024, 9:18 pm EDT
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Cleveland waves the white flag early

A bit surprising to see Cleveland remove Donovan Mitchell with five minutes remaining, but in a 23-point game, it was the right call. Mitchell gave the Cavaliers so much at the end of the Orlando series, and if Cleveland tries to push him too far tonight, he will remain gassed for Game 2.

May 8, 2024, 1:08 AM
May. 07, 2024, 9:08 pm EDT
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Say goodnight

Donovan Mitchell goes to the bench for the beginning of the fourth quarter. In less than three minutes, a 15-point Cleveland deficit has expanded to 22. The Cavaliers are minus-11 in the minutes Mitchell has rested in this game. He is their only reliable source of offense, and with roughly nine minutes to play, it's hard to imagine them coming back. 

May 8, 2024, 12:58 AM
May. 07, 2024, 8:58 pm EDT
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Would anyone care to help Donovan Mitchell out?

Donovan Mitchell has 33 points. No other Cavalier has more than 12. Cleveland's trio of other high-priced perimeter players, Darius Garland, Caris LeVert and Max Strus, have combined for 21. It's the Magic series all over again. Cleveland is getting yet another incredible performance out of Mitchell, and it hasn't mattered because nobody else on his team is scoring.

May 8, 2024, 12:52 AM
May. 07, 2024, 8:52 pm EDT
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How much gas does Donovan Mitchell have in the tank?

Remember, Donovan Mitchell scored 50 against Orlando four days ago, and 39 against them two days ago. He's already at 31 tonight, but the exhaustion is visible. His hands are on his knees whenever he gets a moment to catch his breath. That's one of the big differences here. Boston is fresh. Cleveland is not.

May 8, 2024, 12:45 AM
May. 07, 2024, 8:45 pm EDT
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Evan Mobley's offense is becoming a problem

Having Jarrett Allen may compromise Cleveland's spacing, but the advantage he brings on offense, aside from rebounding, is that he has great hands and he's so strong that he can finish all of the easy stuff comfortably. But Evan Mobley? He gets pushed around so easily near the rim that nothing is easy if it's at all contested. He's missed a couple of gimmes near the rim tonight, and those are misses the Cavs can't abide.

May 8, 2024, 12:40 AM
May. 07, 2024, 8:40 pm EDT
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Darius Garland is down

Oh boy. It looked like Darius Garland just took a smack to the face. He was down on the ground for that entire possession. He needed to be helped to his feet by teammates. Remember, he suffered a fractured jaw earlier in the season, so hits to the face are scary for him.

May 8, 2024, 12:38 AM
May. 07, 2024, 8:38 pm EDT
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Celtics are hunting Strus

Notice that whenever possible, Boston is trying to engineer matchups in which Max Strus is defending someone one-on-one. Boston has seemingly identified Strus as their switch-hunting target, at least for now, because Cleveland won't concede the Darius Garland switch quite as easily.

May 8, 2024, 12:30 AM
May. 07, 2024, 8:30 pm EDT
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Horford eyeing Okoro a little more closely

First possession of the second half: Al Horford is still playing in his help role... but he's eyeing Isaac Okoro a bit more closely. He's a tad late on that rotation over to Evan Mobley, and as a result, Mobley gets two free throws. This is about as much as Cleveland could have hoped for. Okoro is at least making Horford think a little bit after making three first-half 3's.

May 8, 2024, 12:27 AM
May. 07, 2024, 8:27 pm EDT
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Halftime: Celtics 59, Cavaliers 49

Cleveland took the inevitable Boston flurry late in the first quarter and early in the second, but so far, they've largely held their own against the NBA's best team. Donovan Mitchell has picked up right where he left off in the first round with a quick 17 in the first half, but Jaylen Brown is the leading scorer thus far with 20. Both teams are missing the mark from deep right now. The team that starts hitting its shots is going to be the one that controls the second half.

May 8, 2024, 12:10 AM
May. 07, 2024, 8:10 pm EDT
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No Porzingis, no problem

Luke Kornet and Xavier Tillman have given the Celtics 16 combined bench minutes, and Boston has won both of their minute son the floor. This might not be sustainable in the Finals, but for now, in the weaker Eastern Conference, the Celtics look like they are perfectly capable of surviving with Porzingis sidelined.

May 8, 2024, 12:06 AM
May. 07, 2024, 8:06 pm EDT
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Isaac Okoro's shooting is keeping Cleveland's offense afloat

That's three 3-pointers for Isaac Okoro, which are going to pay dividends all game long. Boston's defensive strategy has revolved around leaving him alone and throwing the extra man-power at the rim. Boston has a 10-point lead in terms of paint points, but if Cleveland can just convince the Celtics to guard Okoro from deep, they might actually be able to open things up near the basket.

May 7, 2024, 11:58 PM
May. 07, 2024, 7:58 pm EDT
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What happened to Cleveland's offense?

Four minutes into the second quarter and the Cavaliers still haven't scored. It seems as though Cleveland's offense has fallen back down to Earth. Boston came out a bit slow and sloppy on defense, but now they look like the No. 2 defense in the NBA, and Cleveland hasn't found an answer for it.

May 7, 2024, 11:50 PM
May. 07, 2024, 7:50 pm EDT
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So much for defense

Remember how defense-oriented last round's Cavaliers-Magic series was? To some extent, a similar tenor was probably the expectation for this one, considering Boston's defense is even better than Orlando's. But with both starting centers injured, the offenses are running wild. We have 74 combined points through the first quarter, with Boston in front, 40-34.

May 7, 2024, 11:39 PM
May. 07, 2024, 7:39 pm EDT
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Jaylen Brown leading the way for Boston

Cleveland survived its first-round series with Orlando because Donovan Mitchell scored 89 points in the last two games. Boston is an entirely different beast. They terrify opponents because basically anyone is capable of being the focal point of their offense for a game or a series. Tonight, it's been Jaylen Brown, who scored 15 very quick points for the Celtics early despite often facing Cleveland's best perimeter defender in Isaac Okoro.

May 7, 2024, 11:33 PM
May. 07, 2024, 7:33 pm EDT
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Cavs hitting their shots early

Cleveland was down 10-2 after a few minutes, but the Cavs have caught fire since then. They're up 23-21 and have hit five of their eight 3-pointers so far. Donovan Mitchell has 10 points so far.

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Isaac Okoro trying to punish the Horford matchup

Eight quick points for Isaac Okoro there as the Cavs have seemingly caught onto the "Al Horford as a help-defender" strategy. He's not going to create offense or anything, but Cleveland knows it has to involve him early if it's going to open up the lane as this game progresses.

May 7, 2024, 11:21 PM
May. 07, 2024, 7:21 pm EDT
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Boston's superior spacing immediately paying off

The Celtics have a quick 10-2 lead thanks to two quick 3-pointers, and that's sort of what we expected out of this series. Boston is one of the best shooting teams in NBA history. Cleveland struggles to space the court in basically any alignment, and Boston's decision to effectively ignore Isaac Okoro from deep is just exacerbating that weakness.

May 7, 2024, 11:16 PM
May. 07, 2024, 7:16 pm EDT
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Boston trying to play 5-on-4 defense

The most important matchup note early on in Boston: the Celtics have Al Horford, their center, nominally "guarding" Isaac Okoro. This is a pretty common strategy when there's a non-shooting perimeter player on the floor. Horford is primarily going to function as a help-defender tonight and will dare Okoro to make wide-open 3's. If he can do it, he might force an adjustment out of Boston. If not? The Cavs are really going to struggle to score. With Jarrett Allen out and Boston so dynamic on the perimeter, the Cavs really have no choice but to give Okoro minutes. They need him defensively.

May 7, 2024, 11:13 PM
May. 07, 2024, 7:13 pm EDT
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Jarrett Allen out again for Game 1

Cavs center Jarrett Allen will not be suiting up for Game 1 tonight in Boston. He missed the end of the Cavs-Magic series in the first round after sustaining a rib contusion. Here's the Cavs starting lineup:

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Where to watch Game 1

We're just about ready to tip things off in Beantown. Here's what you need to know about Celtics-Cavs Game 1.

Time: 7 p.m. ET | Date: Tuesday, May 7
Location: TD Garden -- Boston, Massachusetts
TV channel: TNT | Streaming: Watch TNT, Max

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Each team's journey so far

The Celtics are well-rested, but the Cavaliers are battle-tested. These teams are entering the Eastern Conference semifinal at different speeds, but which could benefit most by winning Game 1 at TD Garden on Tuesday?

May 7, 2024, 10:15 PM
May. 07, 2024, 6:15 pm EDT
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Let's get this party started!

Two big playoff games are on Tuesday's slate, both involving a No. 1 seed. Who's ready for some NBA playoffs?

May 7, 2024, 10:00 PM
May. 07, 2024, 6:00 pm EDT