Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.

Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell receive, Jayson Tatum one vote shy of, unanimous All-Rookie first-team selections

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The 76ers’ Ben Simmons, Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma were locks for the All-Rookie first team.

The final seemingly up-for-grabs spot? It went to the Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen, and it wasn’t close.

Here’s the full voting for All-Rookie teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, total voting points):

First team

  • Donovan Mitchell, UTA (100-0-200)
  • Ben Simmons, PHI (100-0-200)
  • Jayson Tatum, BOS (99-1-199)
  • Kyle Kuzma, LAL (93-7-193)
  • Lauri Markkanen, CHI (76-21-173)

Second team

Others receiving votes:

The first team matches our choices.

Dennis Smith Jr. and Josh Jackson are the only selections I’d quibble with. Those two were just so destructive with shooting efficiency and defense. To be fair, they were pressed into larger roles than they were ready for on bad teams. But if the goal is picking the rookies who had the best seasons (what I aim to do), Smith and Jackson didn’t cut it.

However, some voters give more credence to long-term potential, and Smith and Jackson both have plenty of that. Other voters are drawn by bigger per-game numbers, which Smith and Jackson produced in their larger roles. So, it’s minimally surprising they made it.

That one first-team vote for Jackson, though? That’s odd – and it was enough to get him on the second team by one voting point over Heat center Bam Adebayo.

Fast start, LeBron James enough for Cavaliers to hold on to win, even series

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For the first time in 11 days, we had an NBA playoff game that finished with a single-digit margin. Barely.

It didn’t look like it would be early — Boston missed lay-ups and dunks all through the first quarter (and 16 shots at the rim for the game, which the Cavs turned into 15 points going the other way), LeBron James was being LeBron James, and the Cavaliers had a 16 point first quarter lead. It was 15 at the half.

But these Celtics would not go quietly.

Boston started to find it’s offensive groove — hunting Kevin Love incessantly — but in the end couldn’t get enough stops because, well, LeBron James. He finished with 44 points on 17-of-28 shooting, his sixth 40-point game of these playoffs. He got wherever he wanted on the floor all night, carving up the top-ranked regular season defense of the Celtics like a surgeon. No other Cavalier had more than 14 points (Kyle Korver), but the supporting cast played enough defensive and made hustle plays to hang on.

@realtristan13 with the swat and @kingjames with the finish!

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Cleveland got the win, 111-102, and evened the series at 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Boston.

What Celtics fans can feel good about is their team’s resilience and grit. Down big for the second-straight game on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics fought back from as much as 19 down earlier in the game to get it to single digits and make the fans in Quicken Loan Arena nervous in the fourth quarter. That is something the team can carry over to Game 5, as they can some defensive tweaks that shut down opportunities for Korver and the rest of the supporing cast.

What should bother Celtics fans was another night where they struggled to generate offense in the face of more intense defensive pressure.

That came from the opening tip, with the Celtics missing a few layups and a couple of Jaylen Brown dunk attempts — all of which allowed the Cavs to get early offenses and mismatches going the other way. Those missed shots fueled a 10-0 Cavaliers run that had Cleveland up 19-10 early. The Celtics shot 3-of-10 at the rim in the first quarter, shot 26 percent overall, and trailed 34-18 after one.

The second quarter saw the Celtics start to find their offense — they scored 35 points on 50 percent shooting — but they only gained one point on the Cavaliers lead because Boston couldn’t get stops. LeBron had 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half to pace a Cleveland team that shot 61.5 percent overall and hit 6-of-11 threes. That’s why the Cavs were up 68-53 at the half.

The Celtics energy was better than Game 2, but in the first half they looked like a young team, one that made a lot of mistakes.

In the second half, the Celtics started to figure things out — they started making the extra pass, they got stops for stretches, they looked more like a young team finding their footing on a big stage on the road. They finished the night with 25 from Jaylen Brown, 17 from Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier had 16 points and 11 assists.

They just couldn’t completely close the gap because they couldn’t get consistent stops — the Cavaliers shot 60 percent as a team for the game, and a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 59.6. Cleveland mercilessly hunted Rozier on switches — forcing him on to LeBron or Kevin Love then attacking — and the Cavs got enough from their role players. Tristan Thompson did what he needed to bringing energy in the paint and some defense, plus he had 13 points. Korver was diving on the floor for loose balls. Larry Nance Jr. had his second good game in a row. George Hill had 13 points.

And whenever the Cavaliers needed a play, they had LeBron to turn to. He set another NBA record on Monday night, most playoff field goals made for a career.

LeBron is what needs to worry Boston most of all. The Celtics will be better at home in Game 5 — they have not lost in TD Garden all postseason — but if this thing goes seven, it’s a dangerous thing when the other team has the best player on the planet.

Suns GM says team ‘open’ to idea of trading No. 1 pick

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Last year, Celtics’ man in charge Danny Ainge traded the No. 1 pick in the draft, landing the No. 3 pick (Jayson Tatum) and either Sacramento or Philadelphia’s No. 1 next year (the better of the two, unless it is the No. 1 pick).

Could we see two years in a row where the No. 1 pick is traded?

Don’t bet on it, but Suns’ general manager Ryan McDonough said on ESPN’s broadcast from the Draft Combine exactly what he’s supposed to say, that he’s open to the idea (hat tip Rob Lopez of DefPen).

“We’re certainly open to that. We’ll consider it. I think we’ll have more information closer to the draft than we do today after we go through the workout process and the interview process. We’re open to that. I think if you look around the NBA, as far as the veteran players, there are probably a few we’d consider trading the pick for, outright, just pick for player.”

Hint: He was aiming that at Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, if Kawhi Leonard does become available. Or at Dell Demps the Pelicans suddenly decide they don’t want Anthony Davis anymore. Or at Tom Thibodeau if he decides to test the market for Karl-Anthony Towns (that is less insane than you might think, but not likely).

Outside of something highly improbable like any of that happening (it’s hard to imagine Leonard forcing his way out of San Antonio just to tell Phoenix he’d be happy to sign there long term), expect the Suns to keep the pick.

Ainge traded the pick last year because he didn’t believe in Markelle Fultz the way most did, he liked Tatum better. (BTW, it’s too early to fully judge that trade: We haven’t seen what Fultz will become, and we don’t know what pick the Celtics get next year.)

This year Arizona center Deandre Ayton is on top of everybody’s draft board and he is seen as a potential franchise center by most, a guy who could have a Joel Embiid/Towns kind of impact on the Suns (Ayton’s game is different from those two, we’re just talking what he could mean to the franchise). Nobody is trading that unless they are getting a franchise cornerstone piece back. Sure, if a team calls with an offer McDonough will take the call and politely listen, that’s what a GM should do, but don’t expect him to pull the trigger on anything.

This is the Suns’ first No. 1 pick in franchise history, McDonough is not going to trade that away for anything less than a Godfather deal.

Celtics must still prove they can win on road

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LeBron James has made clear he’s not intimidated by road playoff games. That’s the luxury of being an all-time great player with years of experience. No situation is too big for LeBron.

But that’s not necessarily true of his Cavaliers teammates. And it’s almost certainly not true of their opponent in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Celtics won Games 1 and 2 in Boston, but they now must travel to Cleveland for Game 3 Saturday and Game 4 Monday. The Celtics have (unexpectedly) proven themselves to be a strong team this postseason, but they’ve done most of the heavy lifting at home.

Boston is 7-0 at home and 1-4 on the road this postseason. That 80-percentage-point difference between home and road record is tied for the sixth-largest of all-time (minimum: eight games):

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That could just be a small-sample issue. The Celtics have played only three different opponents and nine games at home and five games and two different opponents on the road.

But there’s also a belief (which could be self-fulfilling, especially given the early results) that young players are especially prone to large home-road splits. And Boston is relying on plenty of young players – notably Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

One of the Celtics’ veterans, Marcus Smart, isn’t discounting the issue – nor is he surrendering. Associated Press:

Marcus Smart, who was all over the court in the Celtics’ Game 2 win , didn’t take any offense to Cavs coach Tyronn Lue’s comment that the Celtics have “shown they haven’t played that well on the road.”

“We haven’t played well. We know that and understand that,” Smart said. “We understand that other teams see that and try to exploit it. But that’s the beauty about this game. It just takes one game. You never know. Things change. Our confidence is high. Who knows?”