BOSTON (AP) — Suddenly, the Boston Celtics’ future looks a lot better than their present.
A day after winning the NBA draft lottery and earning the right to the No. 1 overall pick, the Celtics were reminded of the gap between them and the defending NBA champion Cavaliers when Cleveland opened the Eastern Conference finals with a 117-104 victory on Wednesday night.
LeBron James scored 38 points and Kevin Love scored 32 with 12 rebounds for Cleveland, which led by 22 at the half and extended it to 28 points in the third quarter.
“I just think that they were the more aggressive team with more energy, and they got us down from the beginning,” said Celtics center Al Horford, who had 11 points and eight rebounds. “We can’t allow a team of their caliber to build a lead like that in the first quarter. … It’s an uphill battle and we just got to be better to start the game.”
It was the Cavaliers’ 12th straight playoff win — one short of the NBA record. Game 2 is on Friday night before the series shifts to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4.
And if the Celtics don’t play any better than they did in the first half of the opener, that could be it.
“I know that we have to play a lot better at the start,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “You can’t dig yourself a hole like that against them.”
It was the second straight time the Cavaliers visited Boston and faced little resistance. On April 5, with the No. 1 seed in the East up in the air, Cleveland won by 23.
Still, the Celtics wound up grabbing the top seed and home-court advantage through the East finals, and that gave them the right to host Games 1 and 2. But Cleveland erased that edge quickly.
“It’s the mindset you have to have when you go on the road, for Game 1,” James said. “You can’t start the game off lax, or shooting a bunch of jump shots. That’s my mindset.
“I have to be in attack mode, just put the pressure on the defense, see what happens. I was able to do that early.”
The Celtics had just one day off after eliminating the Washington Wizards in Game 7 of the conference semifinals — but what a day it was. Holding the rights to Brooklyn’s first-round draft pick from the 2013 trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, they won the lottery and will take the top pick for the first time since 1950.
That gave Celtics fans a day to dream about next year’s team, which could add a college star like Washington’s Markelle Fultz; at least one fan showed up at Wednesday’s game with Fultz’s name written on his Celtics T-shirt in marker.
Once the game started, there was little to get excited about for Boston.
The Celtics missed 11 of their first 14 shots and trailed 22-9 with four minutes left in the first quarter. Boston was 2 for 16 and shot 35 percent overall in the first half. Cleveland had 22 points in the paint in the first, and James scored 15 in the first quarter alone.
Kelly Olynyk, the hero of Game 7 against Washington with 26 points, was held scoreless in the opener against Cleveland until Boston’s last shot of the game. Isaiah Thomas, who averaged 27 points in the series against Washington, finished with 17 on 7-for-19 shooting.
“They hit us first. They were more physical,” said Thomas, who added 10 assists. “With a team like that, the defending champions, you can’t let them hit first. We’ll make sure it’s different on Game 2.”