Nobody saw this coming: the Boston Celtics going up 2-0 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, without their two best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, due to injury. Even though Lebron James is giving it his best, the Cavaliers face many looming threats that would come with a premature postseason loss.
I could write an entire article on the brilliance of Brad Stevens and how he has managed to make whomever plays at point guard a factor. Or about how the symbiotic relationship between Stevens and general manager Danny Ainge has led to the quick rise of draft picks like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, and more. Lastly, a piece about how Al Horford is the most underrated player in the NBA, the Celtics most important player, and how all these factors have led to Boston’s success.
Let’s focus on the Cavaliers and the fact that this roster is simply not worthy of another championship appearance. It feels crazy to say, considering Lebron has been to eight straight NBA Finals and he still is the best player in the league. However, an undermanned and oft-injured Celtics team is proving that this team is not good enough.
After trading Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for the Brooklyn Nets pick in this past draft, the Cavs were hoping that their current success could be sustained for the season and they could lure Lebron to stay in Cleveland using their draft pick as leverage. The hope was that Isaiah Thomas would help fill the void that Irving left. However, Thomas’ hip injury was misdiagnosed and he ended up missing more games than he played. At the midseason point, as the Cavaliers were stumbling down the Eastern Conference, they pulled the trade trigger again and they re-assembled their roster in the hopes of turning their season around and making a playoff run. Instead, they traded some hobbled veterans for some inexperienced role players. Not to say that players like Thomas and Dwyane Wade would’ve helped the Cavaliers beat the Celtics. Instead, they acquired players such as Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, and Rodney Hood who have been non-factors in the postseason.
And to at insult to injury, the Nets pick only ended up being the eightth pick in the draft. The Cavaliers were praying that the lottery gave them another top three pick, but fate wasn’t on their side this time. This pick will unlikely entice Lebron to stay with the team and the pick may not even help the team in the immediate future. The Cavaliers have gambled several times this season in the hopes of convincing James to stay, but the fact is that the only thing that will is a championship-level roster. A supporting cast of Kevin Love, George Hill, Tristan Thompson and Kyle Korver won’t cut it.
Although the Cavaliers have dominated the East for the past four years, their reign may finally come to an end. It will be official if they lose to the Celtics, as it would be hard to see Lebron re-signing with the Cavaliers, especially if this team doesn’t make the finals. This leaves the East with a vacancy for the top-team and the Celtics appear to be the new kid on the block.
Boston’s young core will only get better and they have, seemingly, an unlimited amount of assets in players and future picks–not to mention that their best players will be coming back from injuries. It seems that the Celtics have a spoil of basketball wealth that will allow them to domineer over the Eastern Conference for the next several years (barring King James signing with the Philadephia 76ers, which would make them title-favorites going into next season).
After two lackluster performances against the Celtics, it looks like the Cavaliers know that their championship window is closing. During game two of the series, there were plenty of signs of a team in discontent: J.R. Smith‘s flagrant foul, the team’s lack of hustle, and their overall defeated body language was all tangible. The terrible defense has been a season-long affair and it has really hurt them so far in this series. With players like Smart, Aron Baynes, and Marcus Morris out-hustling the entire Cavs team for a rebound, it feels like the air has been taken out of the tire–they are deflated and ill-equipped to advance to the next round.
The gap between the two coaches has probably been the most noticeable difference in this series and has factored in the current result. Although Tyronn Lue is a solid NBA coach, his work pales in comparison to Brad Stevens. Stevens brilliance has been on full-display this postseason, as no one gave them a chance after Irving went down for the year. His next-man-up approach has led to inspiring team basketball that is really exciting to watch.
Stevens has also turned role players into key contributors as exemplified in Baynes’ sudden three-point ability and Smart’s general involvement on offense and defense. Although Lue has had his moments, such as calling on Thompson in Game 7 of the first round, his team has been out-coached this series. There has been no sense of urgency of desperation in the Cavaliers and that usually stems from the coach and the best player. The fact that Lue has failed to rally his team and Lebron may have his mind set on different matters has clearly affected the competitiveness of the team.
With everything stated, the Cavaliers can still tie series at two. If the series becomes tied, there will be a renewed energy around this team that may propel them to play more cohesively and with more passion. However, the Celtics have yet to lose a home playoff game and they have home court advantage.
It’s hard not to see this series going seven, which by virtue means it will have been a competitive series. This speaks to the magnificence of James and what he has done this year. Unfortunately for him, the Celtics are simple the better team with a better coach and a better overall roster. This Cavsteam, for the first time since Lebron returned, does not have a championship-level roster.