Between the midly annoying three days of no basketball and waiting for the Summer Movie Season to kick into full gear, there was a lot of talk about the Caviliers and if they had found their style once more (deserved talk after the coach-firing performance they put on in Toronto). There was a lot of talk about Lebron James and if he was better than Michael Jordan (he’s not… yet). There was talk about about what the Sixers should do this summer, if the Rockets could defend Kevin Durrant, and if pulling out of the Iran Deal was a good idea (it wasn’t).
What there wasn’t a lot of talk about was if this Celtics team, even without Hayward who was gone 5 minutes into the season, even without Kyrie who had season-ending knee surgery with 20-something games left, and even without Theis, who added an atheletic big body you could throw at Lebron or Love, could actually win this series.
After Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals, in which the Boston Celtics thoroughly and with conviction dismantled everything Tyron Lou could throw at them, I think it’s time to talk about what this Celtics team can do in the Finals. Is this an overraction? Yes, yes it is. But that’s what we love, single game overreactions.
Let’s look at a few things first before we start planning a parade down Boylston Street. To say the Cetlics defense was the biggest factor in the game, or their season, would be an understatement. They’ve had the best defense in the league and in the playoffs and it showed. The Celtics shot 51.2% (around their playoff average) and 36.7% (also their playoff average) from the three and held the Caviliers to 36.0% shooting and only 15.4% from the three. Remember the lights out offensive barrage the the Cavs displayed just north of the boarder? It was effectivly disintigrated in Game One. Lebron 0 for 5, Korver 1 for 5, JR 0 for 3, Love 1 for 4. The Cavs offense is predicated on switches, and the ability for Lebron to play the mismatch game in real time. Put a quicker wing on him and he finds the matchup problem your team has with Love or Smith. Put a bigger defender on him and he can get it to the post wher Love and become Minnesota Love once more. If all else fails, Lebron can do Lebron things and get to the rim, shoot his fadeaway or hit a super annoying three that has no right of going in.
This Celtics team isn’t Lebronto, though. This Celtics team plays on a string, and the mismatches the Cavs want to exploit don’t exist. Instead, it’s the Celtics mismatches that they have to worry about on the other end. Yes the Celtics are without Hayward and Irving, but with “Average Al” anchoring the league best defense, they can throw out lineups to meet any circumstance. Want to go small, like the Cavs tried to at the beginning of the game? That’s fine, the Celtics will just start Marcus Morris, one of two players who can guard Lebron James (according to Marcus Morris). Want to go big, as Philly tried with Embid and Saric in the last round? Say hellow to the cement truck the Celtics call Aaron Baynes. Looking to create matchups mid-posession with high pick n’ rolls? The Celtics can switch at positions 1 through 5, and even when you get a player like Rozier on Love in the post, the Celtics will switch back as the entry pass is being sent in.
Will the Celtics shoot lights out in a first quarter barrage again? Probably not, but they don’t need to. The Caviliers will make their adjustments for Game Two (most likley going big with Thompson in the starting lineup to win the bully-ball game), and the Celtics will go big and play the slow down pace like they did against the Sixers. The Celtics can play whatever style your team can throw at them, and they win ugly, or they can win pretty. They just win.
On a recent Sports the Podcast episode, I picked the Cavs in six, mostly because Lebron James is the Fortnite Guided missile weapon of the NBA. He’s an unfair cheatcode you use on your younger sibling when they get too good at 2K. But after Game One, my prediction is starting to look a bit ridiculous. For all of Jame’s otherworldly powers, he’s still only one player on a court with nine others. The Celtics are a team in every sense of the word, and even if their record breaking rookie has an off night by his standards (16, 6, and 3 on 55% shooting), anyone of their other players can have a good game.
Or all of them.
It’s time for us to start talking about this Celtics team (not next years), and how they might match up in the Finals. How they can finally give Lebron an early vacation he hasn’t had in eight years. How whatever you can throw at them, they have a counter for. It’s time to overreact and say, this team could not only make the finals, but win the whole darn thing.
That is, until they lose a game or two.