Before the start of the Eastern Conference Finals, everyone outside the Boston city limits expected Beantown to serve as a pit stop for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. King James was clearly on his way to an eighth-consecutive NBA Finals appearance. Nobody expected the Celtics to roll over at home. Without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving though, the Celtics just didn’t seem to have enough star power to unseat the defending Eastern Conference champions.
After two games at TD Garden, the narrative has changed and the Cavaliers are in real trouble. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue woke up Wednesday morning to find his team in a dangerous two-game hole. The Cavs have been battered, bruised and outworked by an energetic and resilient Celtics squad.
Two games. 38 points.
That’s how much the Cavs have been outscored.
We’re not talking about a pair of one or two possession games. The Celts bullied the Cavs in the first two games. Lue admitted as much in his postgame comments after Game 2. According to Brian Robb of the Boston Sports Journal, Lue noted that the Celtics were “gooning the game up.”
"We've got to be tougher, mentally and physically,” Lue told reporters. “We’ve got to come out swinging."
They’re aggressive, and we’ve got to match that,” he later added.
In Game 2, James was aggressive from the outset. He dropped 21 points in the first quarter en route to an impressive 42 point, 12 assist and 10 rebound performance. Kevin Love also played well with 22 points and 15 rebounds. The rest of the team took the night off.
It’s hard to find more glaring proof than the play of the starting backcourts. In Game 2, Boston’s starting guards (Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown) scored a combined 41 points. Cleveland’s starters (George Hill and J.R. Smith) tallied just three points for the entire game.
I’m sure Isaiah Thomas was somewhere chuckling with a margarita in one hand and an ice pack in the other. Even with a busted hip, I.T. can drop more than three points. The youth that the Cavs acquired during its midseason swap meet seems all for naught. Larry Nance Jr. and Rodney Hood each played only 11 minutes, while Jordan Clarkson received a DNP.
With all the young and athletic talent the Celtics possess, the Cavs need to take a chance on some of the team’s young players. It’s that or they will all take a fishing trip with the TNT broadcasting crew.
The stats are overwhelmingly in the Celtics’ favor for advancing to the Finals. Boston is a perfect 37-0 (all-time) when taking a 2-0 lead in a seven game series. Furthermore, according to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “teams that win the first two games at home in a best-of-seven series go on to win the series 95% of the time.”
It’s possible that the basketball world is overreacting to the Cavs’ dismal performances. After all, the Celtics squad simply protected its home court by winning the first two games of the series. Brad Stevens’ club is 9-0 at home in this postseason. Conversely, the team is just 1-4 on the road. That should give the Cavs more than a sliver of hope that the team can bounce back despite its disappointing performances.
In his 15th season in the league, James has been around long enough to know better than to panic. However, if you saw his postgame interview, it appears he’s far from confident in his team’s chances.
“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,” James was quoted as saying by USA Today. “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.”
Due to his track record, it would be foolish to not give James the benefit of the doubt. James doesn’t need to recalibrate. His coach and teammates do.
Adjustments are the key to the postseason. Lue must adjust his strategy and Cleveland’s role players must adjust their intensity.
The Cavs absolutely need to win both games at home. If they do, the veteran-laden team will regain the advantage. If they drop even one game at home, expect the Boston Celtics era to begin a little earlier than expected.
Suns land the #1 pick
The NBA held its draft lottery Tuesday night and top pick will go to the Phoenix Suns. Many people expect the Suns to select Arizona center Deandre Ayton with the top pick. It makes sense. Talented bigs have always been worth their weight in gold in the NBA. Ayton’s local ties, 7-foot-1 size and sweet shooting stroke make his selection a no-brainer to many.
I’m not completely sold on Ayton. He’s a highly-talented prospect, but with the league’s shift to positionless basketball, I’m not sure he’ll become the dominant force that everyone expects him to become.
The top-five draft positions will be rounded out by the Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks (in that order). There’s a good chance that Mizzou’s Michael Porter Jr. will land in the top-five, even after his back surgery. As a Mavericks fan, I’d love to see MPJ land in Dallas. Though it’s possible they will seek to finally fill the gap in the middle with a player like Texas’ Mo Bamba.
It remains to be seen whether Jontay Porter will remain in the draft or return to Mizzou. Many local sports reporters expect him to ride off into the NBA sunset. So far though, mock drafts do not have the younger Porter being drafted in the first round. If the feedback is similar from NBA execs, Mizzou could catch a break for once and see the talented player return for his sophomore season. Fingers crossed.
Follow Ishmael and In the Clutch on Twitter @ishcreates.