Up 2-0, the Celtics are the better team, but don't count LeBron James, Cavs out just yet

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SportsPulse: LeBron James finished Game 2 with a 40-plus-point triple-double but it wasn’t enough as the Celtics remained undefeated in Boston in the playoffs.
USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON – It requires a resilient team to take LeBron James’ best shot – 21 points in the first quarter and a 40-point triple-double by game’s end – and come out victorious.

It doesn’t happen often.

James had 42 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, and the Boston Celtics still won, defeating Cleveland 107-94 on Tuesday and taking a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Celtics have just right mix to withstand a scoring barrage from James. They are a younger, more athletic team playing physical and without fear. They work hard and rarely get flustered despite using players with minimal playoff experience.

“We don’t back down from anybody,” second-year guard Jaylen Brown told ESPN’s Doris Burke on the court following the game.

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In the here and now, Boston is taking it to Cleveland. They are the better team through two games without question. Everything seems so difficult for Cleveland; the game looks easier for Boston.

“Just got a tough, resilient group of guys, and we’re going to have to be even tougher and more resilient as we head to Cleveland,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

Boston has taken a page out of Indiana’s playbook, making James work hard for his points and making it difficult for his teammates to contribute in ways that lead to a victory. Difference is, Boston is a better version of Indiana, which forced Cleveland to seven games in the first round.

The forecast looks good for Boston, which had built-in excuses – namely season-ending injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving – had it lost in the first round to Milwaukee or conference semifinals to Philadelphia. Now, the Celtics are two wins from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

The percentages are in their favor, too. When the home team wins the first two games of a best-of-seven series, it goes on to win the series 95% of the time. Of course, Cleveland was down 2-0 and 3-1 to Golden State in 2016 and came back to win the championship.

That’s why this series isn’t over despite what has transpired. Boston defended home court. Let’s see if the Cavs can do the same in the next two games in Cleveland. They need to play better defense and find ways to get J.R. Smith, George Hill and Jeff Green going offensively. Overall, the effort must improve.

Teams play better at home as do role players, and Boston has lost four times on the road in the playoffs, including three times in the first round of a seven-game series against Milwaukee. While it may not look like it right now, this series can easily be 2-2 a week from now.

“I’m going to go home (Tuesday night) and see my three kids, see my family, recalibrate, see my mom. I think I’ll be fine,” said James who is down 2-0 in an East series for the first time since 2008. “I’m not going to lose sleep over it. You go out and when you lay everything on the line, at the end of the day, you can live with that. I’ll recalibrate as far as how I can help this team continue to be successful (and) I can do some things to make us be even more complete.”

Of all the times the Cavs looked vulnerable and unlikely to get back to the Finals, this ranks right up there.

But if there’s a guy you don’t bet against in the East, it’s James.

“We’re going to see,” James said, “what we’re made of on Saturday.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter. 

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