BRING ON LEBRON!!
(FYI this is the first time I've blogged about the Celtics all year, but I have been paying attention, just not a huge basketball X's and O's guy, but damnit I can give my takes)
Last night the Boston Celtics won game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Washington Wizards 115-105 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals in a game that will be remembered by Celtics fans as simply "The Kelly Olynyk Game".
I've been VERY vocal about how much I dislike (hate) Kelly Olynyk for years. Between how soft I think he is, how inconsistent he is, and how ugly I think his "beard" is. He makes me understand the Yankees stupid no facial hair rule for a second. I'm just not a Kelly guy and not going to pretend I am despite that awesome 4th quarter. You can call me a lot of things, but I'm not a fraud.
But to his credit, the dude showed the fuck up in the biggest game the Celts have had in 5 years. 26 points on 10/14 shooting, 5 boards and 4 dimes. I'm gonna go out on a limb and call it the best game of his NBA career.
The big take away from his game has to be the 5 minute stretch in the 4th quarter where he single handedly outscored the Wizards 12-10. All the credit in the world for Kelly O for his performance last night.
Isaiah Thomas had one of his better games of the playoffs dropping 29 and 12. This is one of my favorite sequences of the game, he blows by John Wall for a lay-up, then my man Terry Rozier stole the inbound and hit Crowder with a nice pass for an easy two. I thought Terry played great in the limited minutes he had last night.
Al Horford, to this point in the playoffs, has played up to his contract. Gave the Celtics 15, 6 and 5 as well as some key defensive stops as well. Rookie Jaylen Brown scored on one of the more athletic lay-ups you'll see by someone not named Lebron James.
The Celtics now get to play Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. Yipee! That is what this post is truly about. Anybody can embed a few highlights.
Despite being the lower seed, pretty much everybody thinks the Cavaliers will not only win the series, but do so without much difficulty.
The defending champion Cavaliers are 8-0 this post season. Since Lebron came back to Cleveland for the 2014-15 season the Cavs have lost just four Eastern Conference playoff games through 8 series. 32-4. It's unreal how much they've dominated the East until this point. Leastern conference indeed.
Due to their back to back sweeps and how NBA scheduling works, the Cavs have not played an NBA basketball game since May 7th. The Conference Finals begin tomorrow on the 17th.
The Celtics on the other hand will have just one day off between game 7 of the 2nd round and the start of the Eastern Conference Finals. Basically no rest after a hard fought series against IMO the 3rd best team in the East. They've had a much more difficult path to the ECF than the Cavs, despite being the 1 seed.
The Celtics struggled with the 8 seeded Bulls, and if it wasn't for a Rajon Rondo broken hand, they'd probably be at home right now. Since he went down, they're a different team. We all just saw how much of a battle the 2nd round against Washington was. Home team was 7-0 in the series, and if they played 14 games, they'd probably be 14-0.
At 8-5 in the postseason, if the Celtics have shown anything during this run (other than how they're the worst rebounding team in NBA history), it's their resiliency to comeback. Between the 0-2 deficit they had against the Bulls and the deep holes they put themselves in games 1 and 2 of the semi-finals this team has shown they will not give up, and keep fighting until they're legally dead.
Nobody is giving them a chance against the Cavaliers, and that's absolutely fine. On paper you probably shouldn't. It's an a huge mismatch. Upsets don't happen in the NBA. Everybody thinks Lebron, Kyrie, and Love will dominate them, and that the Celtics will be lucky to win a game. I'm not going to full out predict a Celtics series win, but I do truly believe they can at the very least, give us a competitive series. By that I mean win at least 2 games. Which as basketball fans we should all want, even if you hate the Celtics, it's not good for the game to keep having noncompetitive conference finals. The lack of parity in the NBA is making the product less enjoyable IMO.
This Celtics core has shown the last two seasons how well they can play against top competition. The nearly beat the Warriors at home to end their 27-0 start. They ended up being the first team to beat the Warriors at the Oracle last year. They've beaten Cleveland in Cleveland (s/o Avery). This year they had a huge win against the Cavs at home (although Kevin Love didn't play). This Celtics team is still a few key pieces away from winning a championship, but they're here and I'm glad they are.
I'm sick of people saying "what's the point?" when they're (probably) going to get killed by the Cavs. I think that's a horrible way to look at it. I'll admit there was a time I sort of felt that way too, mainly just to soften the heartache of losing. While I'm upset they didn't add a rebounder to better their chances, I do think this series will be huge for the Celtics future. Everybody is gaining playoff experience. This is an opportunity for them see truly how far away they are from the Cavs, who have been the class of the East since Lebron's return. They're trying to build something. How close are they? Should they trade Isaiah or build around him? What's Crowder's future? Who is staying between Bradley, Smart and Rozier? What will they do with the frontcourt? We should have a better idea by the end of this series.
The Celtics have made it to the NBA's version of the Final 4 and they did it a lot sooner than people would've expected. This team won 25 games and was in the lottery 3 years ago. Now they're four wins away from the NBA Finals. It's going to be an uphill battle, but I truly believe they have a chance. While the Cavs have steam rolled the Hawks, and Raptors in their two previous conference Finals, I honestly don't think the Cavs will do it to the C's. Isaiah has had a career year, Horford is playing very well this playoffs, and with the depth they have, you never know who on a given night will give 25. Of course I don't expect, the Celtics to win the series, but I do think it is VERY possible for them to make things interesting, at least a lot more interesting than the Cavs last two trips to the ECF. That is credit to home court, Brad Stevens, and the Celtics' defense.
Not to over simplify things but game 1 is monumental for how this series will go. If the Celtics lose game 1 they have 0.0001% chance to win this series. Maybe even less. But I think they have a legit chance to win game 1, and if then if they do, who knows what can happen?
What I think plays to their favor is the layoff the Cavs have had. They're gonna go 10 days without playing. I know they are the superior team talent wise, with a top 10 all time player on their roster, but 10 days off is insane. That's a full on vacation. Lebron has probably watched the Godfather 53 times. While we know the Cavs have been practicing, that's still a wicked long amount of time to be out of the playoffs. It's rest vs rust. They haven't been "on" in a long ass time. Plus there has been the narrative all season long about the Cavs ability to "turn it on". Which they really haven't had to do all season.
Meanwhile, the Celtics haven't had a chance to get rusty as they've had to play a 6 then 7 game series to get this far. Despite what the Cavs may say to the media, I do think they're sleeping on the Celtics. It's human nature to. Lebron has been to 6 straight finals and only two of the conference finals he's played so far have been competitive. 2012 and 2013, both while he was with the Heat. I think they believe the Celtics aren't a real contender and are not going to be an issue, they're expecting to win. I mean they have Lebron and Kyrie. They just have to show up, right?
Weirdly, despite being the higher seed, there is almost no pressure on the Celtics to win this series. That is almost unheard of in sports. Which plays to their favor. They're playing with house money. 2007 Giants had no pressure, either. Nobody is going to call this season a failure (unless they get swept and blown out by 30+ in every game). All the pressure is on the Cavs who have been essentially penciled in for a 3rd bout against the Warriors. Which is why I think a game 1 victory at the very least, will give the Celtics confidence that they can play with these guys, and maybe creep just an ounce of doubt in the Cavs. Let's not forget that they are the CLEVELAND Cavaliers. Don't let one championship take away 50+ years of futility in Cleveland. Realistically though, I think for the Celtics to have any chance they have to go to Cleveland up 2-0.
Despite all their flaws that I've been vocal about all year, the Celtics are here, and they deserve to be. Isaiah Thomas has played at MVP level this year. Avery Bradley is becoming one of the better two way guards in the league. Jae Crowder, while inconsistent offensively at times, gives to above average defense on a nightly basis. Al Horford has been a completely different guy these playoffs, and with sparks like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and now Kelly Olynyk off the bench, you never know. Plus you can't sleep on Terry Rozier, when he gets a chance.
I think one of the few things that gives them even a glimmer of hope is home court. They also have the coaching edge IMO. All the Cavs have in Lebron (that is a joke). The Cavs played for health, rather than home court, which I totally understand. Lebron has shown winning on the road is not an issue for him. I think he's won at least one road game in something stupid like 26 straight series. It was much more important for them to go into the playoffs fully loaded. But the Cavs will have to win in Boston, something the Wizards couldn't do. They obviously are capable of doing it, they're the defending champs and came back 3-1 against the best regular season team in NBA history, but if the Celtics can somehow defend home court they will shock the world. Easier said than done, for sure. They can go to Cleveland and get blown out, just win at home. Look at last series how different the games were at the garden and in DC. It was like two different teams. I know that's a really simplistic way to look at things, but I mean it's the fucking Cavs and Lebron. What else am I supposed to do? Just roll over and take it? Screw go that, Go Celtics! Time to shock the world.
I'll definitely be talking about this series more in the future, but this has gone on pretty long. I do think the Cavs will win the series, probably in 6, but I do believe this Celtics team is capable of pulling off the monumental upset. Lebron has been to the Finals 6 straight years, but the last team to make it that didn't have Lebron on their roster, the 2010 Boston Celtics.
Let's Go Celtics!
P.S. With the cap space and Brooklyn picks the Celtics have, with this core, I think they'll be right back here next year.