BOSTON (CBS) — Unless you’re Mike Gorman, you probably aren’t giving the Boston Celtics much of a chance against the Cleveland Cavaliers over the next few weeks.
As the seventh seed in the abysmal Eastern Conference, the Celtics drew King James and his merry men for the first round of the playoffs. Brad Stevens and his 40-win Celtics are happy to be there, and are hoping to walk away with some important experience for the future. The Cavaliers on the other hand, favorites to win it all according to folks out in Vegas, won’t settle for anything less than 16 wins over the next two months.READ MORE: More Than 800 Boston City Employees On Leave After Phase 2 Of Vaccine Mandate Unrolls
While the Cavs are gunning for a title this year, the Celtics are slowly building towards that ultimate goal. It’s a process, but this year’s postseason berth is a big stepping stone for the team.
In just his second season on the bench, Stevens took a team that traded away their two “best” players in Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, saw 41 different players don Celtics green along the way, and still had them playing as one cohesive unit for the better part of the year. Once Danny Ainge was done playing mad scientist with the roster, Boston really gelled and closed the season in impressive fashion.
Isaiah Thomas was the spark on offense, averaging 19 points per game since arriving from Phoenix at the trade deadline. More times than not though, the offense was a group effort. It was five or six players putting up double digits, rather than one star putting up 30 (though Thomas had a few of those games). One night it would be Evan Turner hitting the game-winner, and the next it was Avery Bradley’s turn. If the starters couldn’t get it done, Stevens would go to guys like Jae Crowder to hit shots, and defend just about anybody on the floor. And don’t forget about the contributions of Jonas Jerebko and Luigi (GIGI!) Datome, who both provided energy and shooting off the pine. While they’re further down on the depth chart, they could play important roles in the upcoming series.
But the more impressive numbers came on the defensive end. The Celtics tightened their D following the All Star break, ranking ninth in the league with a 100.3 defensive rating, and finished with a 1.89 assist/turnover ratio in that span — third in the NBA behind only the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers.
While playing in the putrid Eastern Conference no doubt played a major part in Boston making it this far, it’s not the only reason. They clawed their way from a 16-30 record to start February, and won 24 of their last 36 games. They closed the season on a six-game win streak and even had success on the road, winning their final seven games away from TD Garden.READ MORE: More Than 451,000 Lose Power As Nor'easter Hits Massachusetts
So what can we honestly expect from the Celtics against the Cavaliers? Cleveland is very, very good, and will likely be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. But throughout the season, even with Stevens having to learn new names on a weekly basis, the Celtics never quit.
It should go without saying that the regular season is much, much different from the postseason, especially when some of Boston’s successful stretch came against teams resting up for that extra two months of basketball. That was the case when the Celtics won both of their games over the Cavs in April, with James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving watching most of those contests from the bench.
But given the way the Celtics have been playing defense, and overall, playing as a team lately, they may just surprise people against Cleveland. No, they won’t win the series, and they’ll probably just be lucky to take it to five or six games. While Boston is a city that measures success in banners, just one more win by the Celtics this season would be satisfying, given their first round competition.
Some will argue missing the playoffs would be better in the bigger picture of the rebuild. They say this series against the Cavaliers is costing Ainge valuable ping-pong balls in the lottery, and Boston’s chance at grabbing a rim protector in June’s draft (on Friday, we learned they’ll have the 16th and 28th pick in the draft, with the latter coming from the Clippers).
Phooey. These extra games, however many it turns out to be, are valuable experience for young players on the roster (only five players on the roster have playoff experience) and the young coach on the bench. Stevens now gets to see how his after-time out plays work against one of the best teams in the league, and the best player in the league.
Gorman’s prediction — Celtics in six — isn’t a popular one, and he’s likely been asked about his mental health a few times over the last few days. But the voice of the Celtics is just going off what he’s seen up close over the last two months; A Celtics team that has been in nearly every game, fighting and clawing until the final buzzer.MORE NEWS: Clean Up Efforts Could Take Days With Trees And Power Lines On Cape Cod
Don’t be surprised when you see the same over the next four, five, maybe even six or seven games. This has all been a very generous way of saying they’re going to lose, but the Celtics will be in it, battling until the end. It’s the only way they know how under Stevens, and Celtics fans should be happy they’re getting this opportunity.