By: Kenny Doyle
Last night wasn’t pretty. The Celtics went into the game against the Cavaliers spouting out key buzzwords like “playoff atmosphere”, and yet somehow when the Cavaliers went up 30 it did not feel like an Eastern Conference Finals preview. Even though the Celtics hadn’t played since Sunday and the Cavaliers were on the second night of a back to back, a game in which LeBron James played 37 minutes, the Celtics were the ones that looked sluggish and lacked energy. In a game that may end up deciding the 1 seed, the Celtics clearly looked like the inferior team.
The one bright spot for the Celtics seemed to be the guy you’d expect, Isaiah Thomas. Isaiah in 32 minutes put up 26 points and 6 assists. All in all, a game that you’d take from Isaiah against a team like the Cavaliers. He may have been three points under his season scoring average, but he was above his season average in assists, rebounds, and field goal percentage. Isaiah came to play, but everyone else didn’t. After playing the entire 1st quarter, Thomas existed the game to rest with the Celtics trailing 21-20. By the time he came back in it was 41-24. Isaiah had half of those Celtics points.
It’s been said all season that the Celtics could use someone like Paul George or Jimmy Butler, or maybe even Gordon Hayward, and last night they needed that more than ever. When Thomas is off the floor the Celtics just can’t create offense. The Celtics got throttled last night by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and until LeBron James is gone, every year you have to try to build a team that can beat him. Isaiah showed that he is ready to show up in a big game against the Cavaliers, but unfortunately no one else is. The Celtics big free agency signing this summer, Al Horford. has played 3 series against LeBron James in the playoffs in his career. In those series his combined record against him is 0-12. You need more than Al and Isaiah to beat LeBron.
It was clear last night that if the Celtics are going to beat the Cavaliers in a 7 game series 1 of 2 things need to happen. Either LeBron needs to get injured, or someone besides Isaiah Thomas needs to average 20. Could that someone be on the Celtics right now? Sure. Someone could get hot for a couple of games. It's not out of the realm of possibility, but can you remember any stretch this season where any Celtic player besides Isaiah was consistently putting up 20? I can’t.
Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown are all really good players who are good enough to start in this league, but last night the combined to shoot 3 for 23 from the floor. They each made 1 of those shots, and all shot at least 7 of them. When you have one of your top 7 players shooting like that you can just bench him, but three? You can’t win any games in the NBA with three of your best players throwing up brick after brick.
Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley are solid players, but they will never be All-Stars. It’s hard to look at those positions and say you need better players, but those are the 2 guys most likely to be traded in the offseason. It is really starting to look like the only starters that will be returning next season for the Celtics are Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. The players available this summer will be on the wing, and you already have Jaylen Brown. Saying goodbye to one or both of the Jae-Avery combo seems to be a logical step for the Celtics come the offseason.
This loss doesn’t mean the season is over, so maybe we should hold off on all the offseason details, but last night made it clear the the Celtics will have to do something. Keep the pick, trade the pick, sign Gordon Hayward, or sign Blake Griffin, but if the Celtics fail to get past the Cavaliers this year and they comeback with the same starting lineup, I can’t imagine many fans being happy.
After last night, I’m sure a lot of people don’t think the Celtics have a chance in hell to beat the Cavaliers, and I wouldn’t blame them. Expect to hear a lot of people ripping the Celtics apart for at least the next couple of days. Ultimately the playoffs will really prove how much of it is true, but if last night was a sign of things to come then watch out.
Photo: (Boston Globe)