BOSTON – The Celtics were not built to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers…or any other top seed for that matter in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That fact was known before the postseason even began, but it became brutally apparent on Sunday afternoon, as Cavs took care of business in Boston for Game 4 with a 101-93 win to finish off the overmatched green with a routine sweep.
Critics of Boston’s trip to the playoffs as a No. 7 seed with a lackluster 40-42 record may have felt vindicated by the Boston’s lackluster performance. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving imposed their will against the Celtics all series long, getting whatever they wanted on the offensive end on most trips. James averaged 27 points per game in the series, while Irving followed closely behind with 23.3 ppg.READ MORE: Wife Of New Bedford Police Sergeant Who Died From COVID-19 Fights For Benefits
Irving and LeBron were only the start of the problems poised by Cleveland for Boston’s overmatched roster. Cleveland’s big man rotation of Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, and Timofey Mozgov wreaked havoc on the offensive glass all four games with countless second chance points.
The Celtics also failed to muster any consistent offense against a mediocre Cavs defense, shooting just 42 percent from the field and a paltry 25 percent from beyond the arc. Cleveland exposed Boston’s flaws and even a crafty Brad Stevens couldn’t find any adjustments that worked, going through all 13 players on the active roster in Sunday’s loss.
Despite all of the team’s issues, the vibe from the Celtics locker room after the game though was not one you would usually hear from a team that was just swept out of the postseason. Instead, the entire team seemed to have some good perspective and appreciation of the opportunity to accumulate some experience that will help the team in the long run in its quest to return to the NBA’s elite.
“I’m glad we played the Cavs,” Stevens declared after the game. “Because you’re going to be chasing that level of player, to figure out how to stop them or how to make it more difficult on them. We’ve shown that we’ve been in games, even though we haven’t controlled everything we can control.
“Do they take it up to a different level if the game’s tied at the end of the game? That’s the one thing we don’t know, because we never saw that. We never really had a game except today we could’ve cut it to three, maybe, but that was kind of an anomaly I guess the way that game was finishing. But I’ve learned a lot about that, and I’m excited about where we stand, but I know we have a lot of work to do.”
Like Stevens, it was the first postseason experience for Isaiah Thomas, who also struggled mightily in the final two games of the series (shooting 33 percent overall in four games). Still, the 5-foot-8 guard remained upbeat about the Celtics remaining competitive with the NBA title favorites for the better part of each contest in the matchup.READ MORE: Firework Thrown From Car Sparks Fire In Franklin; Police Search For Driver
“We do take a lot of positives out of it,” Thomas admitted. “We know we can compete with anybody in the NBA. People counted us out and we just kept fighting, we kept believing in ourselves, we kept coming work every day with our hard hat on and working hard and doing the things that we can control. If we can do that in the summer, next training camp, next season, then we got a bright future with this group of guys.”
Avery Bradley has been through multiple playoff series in his career during the Big Three era, but he has never experienced a sweep like the Cavs handed down. After living through what it takes to win in the postseason with that group, the shooting guard hopes his teammates realize how razor thin a team’s margin for error is in the postseason.
“Looking back at it, I know that everybody is like ‘Man we definitely had a chance,’ but all you can do is take from this experience, learning how to value every single possession. That’s one thing that Brad is getting better at, we have a lot of young guys that are learning that in the playoffs you don’t really have room for any mistakes and we improved every single game but we continued to make little mistakes and that’s really the reason why we lost,” Bradley said.
With plenty of work waiting for Stevens and the Celtics front office this offseason as the group attempts take the next step in the team’s rebuild, the road back to success in the Eastern Conference will eventually have to go through Cleveland.
The Celtics aren’t close to being a challenge, but in past week , the team learned a lot about itself in defeat. That knowledge will prove valuable for the franchise in the long haul, likely more than a draft pick a couple slots higher in the teens if the team had missed the postseason.
“I think the biggest thing for us is we got some experience,” Stevens declared. “But we didn’t just get it against a run-of-the-mill team. We got it against a team that a lot of people think will come out of the East. I think that with some of the best players in the world, and that stretches you and that’s a good thing.”MORE NEWS: Are COVID Tests Accurate For Variants? Dr. Mallika Marshall Answers Your Questions
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.