|04.20.15 at 12:36 pm ET|
Game 1 went pretty much according to script for the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose big three combined for 69 points, 13 assists and five offensive rebounds in a 113-100 victory. And while the Celtics did a decent job of containing LeBron James, they enjoyed much greater success with Jae Crowder defending the four-time NBA MVP than starting wing Evan Turner.
So, should Celtics coach Brad Stevens consider starting Crowder over Turner in Game 2? Based on the evidence from their first showing in Cleveland, Stevens must at least play Crowder with greater regularity opposite James in the superstar’s 40-plus minutes.
LeBron played a total of 42 minutes in Cleveland’s Game 1 victory, and Crowder only shared the court with him for roughly half of that time period (20.2). Now, consider this number: The Celtics were 38.7 points per 100 possessions better with Crowder opposite LeBron than with their hard-nosed forward on the bench, according to NBA.com/stats.
In 20.2 minutes with Crowder on the floor, LeBron was a minus-7 against the C’s, finishing 3-for-8 from the field (0-for-4 from mid-range) to go along with four assists and four turnovers. In 21.8 minutes with Crowder on the bench, James was a plus-10, going 5-for-10 (5-for-5 in the paint) with three assists and one turnover. Granted, that’s a limited sample size, but the eye test bears out a similar discrepancy.
Let’s first examine each of LeBron’s eight shot attempts with Crowder on the floor.
|04.19.15 at 5:38 pm ET|
James finished with 20 points on 18 shots and added seven assists with five turnovers, so instead Kyrie Irving made the Celtics pay, scoring 30 points in a 113-100 victory that gave the Cavs a 1-0 series lead. Kevin Love added a double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds).
“Offensively, we were good in the first half, and defensively we were good in the second, but we never really put it together,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “And I’m not overstating this: Credit them; they’re really good.”
The Celtics actually owned the lead 20 minutes into the game, thanks to 55 points from their bench, but couldn’t overcome Cleveland’s 15 offensive rebounds and 13 3-pointers. Isaiah Thomas led six C’s in double figures with 22 points and 10 assists. Kelly Olynyk and Evan Turner added 12 points apiece, while Brandon Bass, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder each added 10, but it wasn’t enough to match Cleveland’s relentless attack.
“We’ll learn from it and improve from it,” added Stevens. “Very simple. Don’t want to overdo do it. This is a long series, and I think we have to learn from what we didn’t do well and try to continue what we did do well — and do it more often.”
For the complete box score, click here.
After the first quarter, this series seemed like it might go longer than anyone anticipated. The Celtics scored 31 points on 57.1 percent shooting, taking a 31-27 lead into the second frame. Tyler Zeller did the damage with six points against his former team early, Turner drained a corner 3-pointer to tie the game at 11 midway through the first quarter, and the bench carried the load late to take a 31-27 lead.
|04.18.15 at 8:00 am ET|
So, Celtics play-by-play man Mike Gorman picked them to win their first-round series against the Cavaliers in six games, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge responded, “Well, he had some pretty good evidence,” and we all had a good laugh about the C’s 40-to-1 odds to win the series.
Truth is, the Celtics aren’t going to push this series beyond five games, right? … Right? … I mean, it’s not like Brad Stevens has a history of taking Cinderella to the big dance or anything … RIGHT? OK, I’m going to talk myself into this thing if I don’t look at some cold hard facts real soon, so let’s do this.
The Cavs weren’t really the Cavs until acquiring Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in early January, adding the defense and 3-point shooting that helped LeBron James achieve legendary status in Miami. And the Celts weren’t really the Celts until acquiring Isaiah Thomas, Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome at the Feb. 19 trade deadline, adding the scoring punch and lineup flexibility that helped Stevens achieve wizardry status. So, in the interest of fairness, any tale of the tape for these two teams should start with a completely arbitrary date between their current story arcs. Let’s say Feb. 3.
[Editor’s Note: Just kidding. Feb. 3 totally isn’t arbitrary. It’s the date that makes Boston look best agains Cleveland, because otherwise a tale of the tape between them would be like asking the late great Manute Bol to pose for a photo alongside Muggsy Bogues. And who would do such a thing?]
Here we go. All of the per-game and advanced statistics below were culled from NBA.com/stats.
|04.17.15 at 1:58 pm ET|
Celtics CSNNE play-by-play commentator Mike Gorman joined Middays with MFB to discuss his predictions for the C’s upcoming playoff series against the Cavaliers. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.
“It’s how you’re playing right now that matters, it’s not what you did before,” Gorman said. “And you could take a pretty substantial sample size of the last 36 games where Celtics have gone 24-12. … They’ve got the fifth-best defense in the league over the last 38 games. They have got, also — this number surprised me when I was doing the research — when Isaiah Thomas is on the floor according to the NBA statistics, they have the second-best offense in the league. Only Golden State has a better offense than the Celtics do when Isaiah Thomas is on the floor.”
Added Gorman: “There are going to be certain keys to this series that goes along right from the very beginning. One to watch for in the first quarter of the first game is the intensity level of both sides, who’s the more energetic teams that’s on the floor. And are the officials going to let Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart play very tough defensively against the guards of Cleveland.”
Cleveland is the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and the Celtics occupy the No. 7 seed after a 40-42 season. Vegas oddsmaker Westgate SuperBook has the Cavs as the favorites to win the NBA championship.
“Yes, [the Cavaliers] have more talent, but [the Celtics] play as a team,” Gorman said. “The Celtics I think are third or fourth in the last two months in fewest turnovers a game. They take care of the ball, they’re not reckless. … I think one of the keys to this game when you watch it on Sunday is the Celtics need to make Cleveland have six, seven, eight touches per offensive possession. You can’t have somebody get a rebound, fire it to LeBron, LeBron goes the length of the court and gets a dunk or Kyrie [Irving] gets a kick from LeBron and gets a 3 off one pass. You’ve got to make them play offensively and move the ball around. If the Celtics can do that, I think they can keep this game well within reach.”
For more Celtics news, visit the team page at weei.com/celtics.
|04.17.15 at 12:58 pm ET|
With the end of the regular season, WEEI.com’s Celtics writers — Julian Edlow, Sam Packard and Ben Rohrbach — have come together to hand out some team awards. On Sunday Ben Rohrbach will have a complete preview the first-round playoff series between the Celtics and Cavaliers.
Julian Edlow: It sounds so corny to make a coach the MVP, but it’s the truth. Brad Stevens is the Celtics‘ MVP. What he’s done, going from a revolving door of players into a tight-knit team that’s hotter than anyone in the East, is truly remarkable. Each and every one of Stevens’ guys love playing for him, and it shows out on the court.
Sam Packard: I was leaning toward Stevens, too, for all the reasons Julian mentioned, but for variety’s sake I will take a player. I think Avery Bradley is the MVP this season. In addition to his great defense, Bradley has been the Celtics‘ most consistent scorer. If he could just extend his range out about three feet, he would be an All-Star.
Ben Rohrbach: Brad Stevens. When the front office trades your team’s top scorer (Jeff Green) and top playmaker (Rajon Rondo), injuries claim your last three first-round picks for at least 15 games apiece (Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart), and you’re operating at various stretches of the season with Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, Evan Turner and even Tayshaun Prince as your best player, it’s probably safe to say your coaching played an important role in your team winning 40 games.
JE: The playoffs are as big of a surprise as we could have imagined. No one saw this coming when the C’s were 16-30 just 2 1/2 months ago. Fast forward to the postseason and Boston is 40-42 — finishing up at 24-12 since Feb. 2. And for those who would consider changing the playoff format, and I’m not against this, the Celtics still would be in with the 16th-best record in the league. But if the playoffs were too broad of an answer, getting Isaiah Thomas is a big surprise, too. He’s a huge reason that they are where they are.
SP: Who knew Evan Turner could be this good? No matter what he does, he is going to be the most hated Celtic on Twitter, but I have been really impressed by his ability to run the offense this year. His 2.5 turnovers a game are annoying, but the guy needs the ball in his hands to make plays, and he does exactly that. This year he joined Larry Bird, Antoine Walker, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo as the only Celtics to have three triple-doubles in a season.
BR: Turner. Anybody who thought a guy who ranked 205th in assist-to-turnover ratio last season would essentially be running the point as arguably the most important player for a playoff team this year is kidding themselves.
|04.17.15 at 11:32 am ET|
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge joined the Dennis & Callahan show on Friday morning to talk about the C’s upcoming playoff series against the Cavaliers and what he sees from his team. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Earlier this week, Mike Gorman of Comcast SportsNet New England gave his prediction for the first round of the postseason. He said the series would last six games, but unlike most others, Gorman said that it would be the Celtics who advance to the conference semifinals, not LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
When asked about the prediction, Ainge noted that the Cavs certainly have the advantage but that there are aspects of the game the C’s can focus on to stop them as best as possible.
“We need to make a high percentage of our 3’s in order to win this series,” he said. “Not so many turnovers, which is obvious, preventing them from getting open-court baskets. I think if we give them a lot of open-court baskets, either off the long rebounds or breakouts off steals, we have no chance of stopping them. They’re tough enough to stop them at half court let alone in the open court, where they have the big advantage.
“But listen,” Ainge added, “they’re obviously a star-studded team. They have a lot of different options, and I think that in a series like this, they just have a much greater room for error than we do. And we just have to play at our best, we need five, six guys playing the best basketball they’ve played, and our guys are capable of it. It’s a tough, tough mountain to climb, but it’s fun. It’s a fun opportunity for us.”
After dealing Rajon Rondo and finding themselves 11 games under .500 at the trade deadline, the Celtics weren’t expected to make the playoffs. Ainge himself said it was a bit of a long shot. However, he worked to acquire Isaiah Thomas, and while he said he knew the 5-foot-9 guard would make the team better, Ainge didn’t know he would make as much of a difference as he had.
And the players aren’t the only ones making a difference on this C’s team that has experienced a major turnaround. Brad Stevens was named was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for April on Thursday and Ainge expressed how pleased he is with his second-year coach.
“We went after him and him only and we gave him a six-year contract, which I think is unprecedented in the NBA for a head coach, and I think that pretty much tells that we knew we were getting somebody special, and I have not been disappointed at all,” he said. “To say he’s better than I even thought, I thought he was pretty good and I think that his transition has been better from a coaching standpoint, and I think he still will be better next year and the year after and the year after that. I think he’s such a smart guy and a hard worker that he’s just going to continue to become better as a coach, but he’s a very good coach right now and I couldn’t be any happier with Brad.”
|04.17.15 at 8:54 am ET|
Stevens guided the C’s to a 7-1 record, a perfect 4-0 on the road, and Boston finished the season on a six-game win streak. Not for nothing, too, as five of those teams are playoff bound. The Celtics also managed a plus-8.8 points-per-game differential during April as well.
With the run Boston has gone on, it has been able to slide into the seventh seed in the playoffs, punching its ticket to a first-round matchup with the second-seeded Cavaliers.
“The total buy-in is unbelievable,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told SB Nation regarding how Stevens’ team responds to him. “They’ve got a young team. It’s almost like a college team playing hard, running through a wall and they’re relentless. Brad has them playing at a high level on both ends of the floor. If you don’t match their intensity you’re in trouble. They remind me a lot of us last year. No agendas, nothing but let’s go out and play hard and let’s win. That’s how they’re playing now and that’s how I think the game should be played.”
The NBA’s Western Conference Coach of the Month is familiar to Boston as well. Doc Rivers, the former C’s bench boss, was able to lead his Clippers to the only perfect record in April, going 7-0 and scoring 108.6 ppg while allowing 97.4 ppg in that time.
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