By that time, Boston led 61-35 — the biggest halftime playoff deficit in James’ career.
With injured stars Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving on the bench in street clothes, the Celtics continued their stunning run this season with what may have been the most surprising turn of events yet. A year after dropping the first two games at home against Cleveland in a five-game East final, the Celtics pounced on James, and the favored Cavaliers were never really in it.
The Celtics took the floor to a hype video that began with the broadcast of Hayward’s injury in the first quarter of the first game, at Cleveland. A variety of commentators predicted the team’s demise, including Hall of Famer Charles Barkley saying: “Their season’s over.”
As more players went down to injury, the prophesies grew even gloomier.
But there the Celtics were, back in the Eastern Conference finals against the Cavaliers for the second year in a row — with Hayward, Irving, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin all injured and coach Brad Stevens down to an eight-man rotation.
It was more than they needed.
Morris, starting in place of Aron Baynes, backed up his boast that he could cover James better than anyone except Kawhi Leonard and helped pester James into seven of Cleveland’s nine turnovers. (James had eight in the entire four-game, second-round sweep of the Raptors.)
Horford made his first seven shots of the game and scored 10, including eight straight, during the 17-0 run that turned a three-point deficit into a 21-7 lead. After James wiggled his way to a layup — Cleveland’s first points in 4 minutes, 43 seconds — Boston ran off eight more points in a row; Brown had six of them, and he finished the quarter with 13 points and five rebounds.
Cleveland scored seven straight points early in the third and finished the quarter with six in a row to make it 78-64. But Boston made the first three baskets in the fourth and, after running off nine in a row to make it 96-68 with 7:09 left, the Cavs conceded.