There are times on the schedule where you need to show up, even when you have no desire to do so. While this may sound like the Cleveland Cavaliers performance on Wednesday against the Boston Celtics, it’s really how I feel about writing this article.
I was unable to watch this game live, so as I went back to watch it I went in fully realizing that the Cavs laid an egg. This undoubtedly colored the way I viewed this game, so in the interest of full-disclosure, it’s worth bringing up.
So here we go, here are the three takeaways from the game.
The Celtics defense is legitimate
There are some obvious qualifiers here, given that the Cavs came out with a less than stellar effort. Kevin Love, who was questionable with an illness for Tuesday night’s game, was an absolute disaster on the second night of a back to back.
But even with all that being said, Boston is not going to allow the Cavs to cruise at any point. If you don’t execute with a purpose, you aren’t going to stroll your way into easy looks against this team. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in particular, are so far ahead of the curve defensively for their age. It is a testament not only to the scouting and player development of the Celtics, but to the maturity of their two blossoming stars that they have bought in and are such valuable contributors to a winning team this soon.
The Cavs have a habit of coasting through a game and turning it on late. That just wasn’t a possibility against a Boston team that is incredibly motivated to establish themselves as legitimate. With Love hurt and the team clearly not into the game, Tyronn Lue sat LeBron James in the fourth quarter. Erasing any chance of the Cavs making one of their signature fourth quarter pushes.
Tristan Thompson is still key to negating Al Horford
Horford had one of his better games we’ve seen against the Cavaliers, putting up 11 points, nine rebounds and three assists on 5-7 shooting. Both Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson have done a good job covering Horford in the past, leading to him averaging nine points and six rebounds against the Cavs last season.
But Love struggled on both ends of the floor, allowing Horford to have an effective game.
However, in the 10 in the minutes Horford shared the floor with Thompson he was limited to one shot (which he made), one rebound, one assist and a turnover. The Celtics net rating when the two shared the floor together was -0.6, in comparison to +14.9 when Horford played without Thompson.
With Gordon Hayward out, the most effective way to beat the Celtics is by neutralizing Horford. It forces the Celtics to rely solely on heroics from Kyrie Irving, as well as the production of Brown and Tatum. While their young duo has been impressive, them needing to shoulder a load of that magnitude over the course of a playoff series is likely a tall order.
Horford is shooting just 25 percent this season with Thompson on the floor, after shooting 37 percent with him on the floor in both the 2016-17, and 2015-16 seasons.
It’s January basketball
It’s very possible that the Boston Celtics will prove to be a greater threat than the Cavs anticipated, should these teams meet in the playoffs. But even if that is the case, it’s highly unlikely that the series looks anything like this game.
It’s unlikely that Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jason Tatum, Kevin Love, Jae Crowder, and LeBron James look this bad over the course of a series. Given how he’s performed historically, it’s probably unlikely Horford looks this good. Isaiah Thomas likely will be playing for the Cavs, changing the way these teams game plan for each other. Given how active both teams typically are, there may even be some trades completed by these teams before then.
The fact is, both teams are still figuring out who they are and reading too much into any one game, one way or the other is unwise. Just like if the Cavs came away with a win on Christmas Day, it wouldn’t change how things projected for a Finals another Finals match up between these two teams. The Boston Celtics were the better team on Jan. 3, 2018 They deserve credit for that, regardless of the context of the evening.