It isn’t often a team climbs the league ladder so quickly; It isn’t often a team can pull off not one, but two gimmes in the trade market; It isn’t often the smallest guy can sometimes feel like the biggest guy, and it sure as hell isn’t often a conference finalist grabs the first overall pick.
Whether that’s down to luck or strategy is your call, but the position these Celtics find themselves in becomes increasingly impressive, yet more unusual by the day. Maybe were on a high — what a crazy couple of days- but finding success in the postseason isn’t meant to be complimented with an extra doese in the lottery; Owners, GM’s, fans, coaches, even players would second this. The system is designed so struggling are rewarded whilst stronger teams are pegged and managed, or at least in theory, so what makes this unusual is that the Celtics don’t quite fit. They’ve defied all prevalent convention of the last couple years: maybe you don’t need to win ten games to rebuild (who is Sam Hinkie?), maybe you don’t need one superstar to succeed, maybe a ‘3 and D’ guy can be a little better at ‘D’ than he is at ‘3’ (I’ll ride with Marcus till the end). Perhaps the recipe for success comes with a little strategy, but a whole lot of toughness and heart, something that is rarely talked about on draft night — “he’s a great competitor” really doesn’t do it.
The Celtics don’t match up with the Cavs’ talent or their experience and the only guy who can hang around offensively with them is Isaiah. Lebron poses a matchup nightmare, he killed them in the last regular season meeting with 36/10/6; a low assist count by his standards. He’ll willfully exploit the Celtics rebounding problem because aside from being the most skilled player, he is always the smartest guy out there. It won’t take him seven games to realise Isaiah absolutely needs to be attacked on defense, and it won’t be surprising to see Lebron cover the Horford pick and pop (assuming Horford stays hot from three) when Love over commits on Isaiah or underestimates Smart’s vision. What makes it so hard to play him is that he doesn’t need a timeout to make the adjustment and he will never make the same mistake twice. This series may play out with Stevens throwing different schemes at the Cavs with Lebron subsequently adapting on the fly. That would be quite a sight.
No doubt Isaiah will be involved in a lot of those schemes so expect Love to be continuously tested in the half court. He is the weakness in that defense and if the Celtics are to have any hope, it needs to be exploited.
On defense, it’s a matter of withstanding LeBron and all he brings while Bradley must do his best to limit Irving’s penetration into the lane, the Celtics clearly do not have the rim protection or the margin of error to afford Irving his bread and butter. The Cavs will spread the Celtics out farther than either the Bulls or the Wizards did so it is imperative that perimeter defenders prep for long rebounds and be weary of kick outs to the three-point line.
There’s no dispute, this series is the Cavs’ to lose. They sit firmly in the driver’s seat and its highly likely they stay there. Playoff series are rarely upsets, teams have a maximum of 7 games to figure it out and often the stronger teams prevail, the weaker teams may steal one, although it takes a robust group of guys, a coherent plan and one special player to take four games. It seems the Celtics have all three, but so do the Cavs. I guess all that is left, is to say this:
Never underestimate the underdog mentality.