The Cavs and Celtics have started a burgeoning rivalry after two playoff meetings in the last three years and a blockbuster deal this summer that swapped superstar point guards for one another and left a lot of hurt feelings on both sides.
Well, J.R. Smith is not typically one to put out fires, and he added some gasoline to this one when he was asked if he viewed the Celtics as a greater threat to the Cavaliers this season after overhauling their roster, via Cleveland.com:
"Not really, honestly," Smith said. "I mean they have Ky (Kyrie Irving), but last year they had Isaiah (Thomas), Avery (Bradley). And Gordon (Hayward), I mean, give or take obviously they bring different things to the floor. Gordon is a better offensive player but Avery is the better defender, so pretty much you could say a wash there.
"I mean, nobody really knows. People are expecting good things from (Jayson) Tatum but he's a rookie, so I can't really go there. Al (Horford) is a pick-and-pop guy. He doesn't really roll as much. I think Jaylen (Brown) has obviously gotten better so, I think they're the same ... I wouldn't say the same team because obviously there's different people in different jerseys, but I mean, I don't really pose them as a big threat to us."
Well, then. Smith is quite possibly wrong, for what it’s worth. The Celtics added Gordon Hayward, an all-NBA quality player alongside Kyrie Irving. They had to sacrifice some of their vaunted depth to do so, but it does feel like the ceiling has been raised on this Boston team.
Now, that’s not to say Smith doesn’t have some valid points. Losing Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder hurts. Kelly Olynyk won a playoff game for that Celtics team the year prior. They’re still woefully under-manned on the boards, and they’ll need Marcus Smart’s preseason burst to hold up in the regular season.
In the meantime, it doesn’t appear that Smith is ready to give the Celtics respect until they go and take it. An absolute destruction against the Celtics on their home floor in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals probably looms large in the Cavs minds, and it will until Boston proves otherwise. They’ll have a chance to do so in the season opener on Tuesday night.
We’ll see if J.R. has a different opinion then.