The truth of Wednesday’s head-to-head between the Celtics and Cavaliers, a 102-88 win for the Celtics, can be found somewhere in the middle of what your eyes told you.
On one hand, it’s impossible to imagine the Cavaliers looking as disinterested and straight-up horrible as they did in this game. Part of that is to be expected given the fact that this is an aging group coming to Boston on a second leg of a back-to-back. And also when you’re starting a woeful backcourt (Jose Calderon!) against the creativity and brilliance of Kyrie Irving, pestering Marcus Smart, and volume-scoring Terry Rozier.
The only thing more obvious than their desire to get that bus warmed up and out of Boston early was Isaiah Thomas’ itch to convince Cavs coach Ty Lue to let him lose the tracksuit and get into action. That obviously did not happen, despite Thomas standing on the sidelines and chirping everything and everybody for almost the entire game.
“They were missing a little guy, too. He’s pretty good,” Brad Stevens acknowledged when asked about holding the Cavaliers to a season-low 88 points. “They didn’t have [Iman] Shumpert. They didn’t have Thomas. They didn’t have [Derrick] Rose.”
These are not excuses for the Cavs, a team that’s taken 14 of the last 18 head-to-heads with the Celtics including postseason play, but rather obvious points worth mentioning if you’re going to be anything close to fair when assessing Cleveland’s night of struggles.
But on the other hand, it’s obvious that this C’s group, which left the Cavs in the dust in the first quarter and simply never looked back, is nothing like the one that the began their season in Cleveland 40 games ago. They’re top-to-bottom better.
Marcus Morris, considered one of the better defensive matchups against LeBron James (held to under 20 points for just the sixth this time season), is in the lineup and playing real minutes. Jayson Tatum, one of six Celtic scorers in double-digits, put on yet another show, with a 6-of-14 night shooting, and a game-high plus-21 rating when on the floor. Tonight’s team also had the luxury of not dealing with the mental and lineup effects of seeing their star free agent addition’s ankle completely broken and pointed the wrong way back to Boston.
And their bench, which accounted for just 27 points in the first meeting between these teams back in October, came through with a massive 48-point night.
The bench’s big lift came from Rozier, who led all scorers with 20 points, including makes on four of his six attempts from downtown, in just 19 minutes. Smart was right behind him in bench production, too, with 15 points and four helpers in 26 minutes.
“They were great, they were great,” Stevens said. “Sometimes against teams like this you have to score. It’s obvious that you have to score to kind of keep the other team at bay. When [Kyle] Korver goes on that mini-run that he does, even those really, really hard shots, we went down and scored enough to maintain a lead and our composure.”
Regardless of the status of the Cavs’ ultra-talented bodies — sluggish, injured, or not yet at 100 percent and ready to play in back-to-backs — this was as strong a regular-season message as the Celtics could have sent to their biggest competitor in the East.
“We’re trying to go far,” Rozier said. “Trying to go real far, farther than last year,”
That doesn’t seem likely to happen without a response from the Cavaliers, of course.
Which is something these Celtics finally seem equipped to handle.
JBL Audio Stat of the Game: Second-year pro Jaylen Brown (519 points) has already surpassed his point total from all of last season (515 points in 78 games).
JBL is the official audio of Jayson Tatum, the Boston Celtics, and the NBA.
Full article @ Celtics 102, Cavaliers 88: Message sent and delivered
Source: GreenStreet Blog