Before I dive into this list, let me just echo a few things up front about this Cleveland team. When they are on, like they were yesterday it’s going to take an outstanding effort to beat them. If the Celtics even play a good game yesterday they still probably lose by 10-15 points. With that said, I’m still not worried about how badly the Celts lost this game and here’s why:
1) No Leon Powe and Kevin Garnett
Their absence should not be an excuse for the team’s performance. At the same time, having either of these guys on a gurney probably would have helped our cause. More than anything I feel like the C’s missed KG’s fire in this game. No way he lets us lose by 30, even if he is at less than 100 percent. His intensity and commitment to defense is contagious for those he is out on the floor with, and the team stands to benefit from that when he’s back out there. They certainly needed it yesterday.
As far as Leon goes, I’ll let the numbers do the talking. In 3 games against Cleveland this year he has averaged 13.7 points and 5.3 rebounds with 78% shooting from the field, all coming in only 20 minutes a game. Let’s also not forgot how the C’s beat the Cavs without KG at home thanks to his monster 20-11 last month. His strong rebounding, post play and ability to take charges makes him a valuable player against Cleveland, as well as a better matchup against them than Big Baby.
To reiterate, he would not have been a game changer against Cleveland yesterday, but if he’s up to speed once the Eastern Conference Finals roll around next month, Leon fills a crucial piece of the puzzle we were missing yesterday.
2) This game mattered less to the Celtics, then it did to the Cavs
By this, I’m not saying the Celtics mailed in this game from the start. They came into Cleveland with the intention of winning. Once they had a miserable start shooting though, it was evident they lacked the passion and fire to stay close against a Cavs team that was focus and motivated. Cleveland is still fighting to earn home court advantage for the playoffs as well as for the chance to tie the Celtics mark for best home court record in a season. This reality allowed the Cavs to draw blood early in this one, and jump on a tired looking Celtics team. This leads me to my next point.
3) The Celtics easily had their worst shooting half of the season
15% shooting. 3/20 from the field. 9 points. That’s all the Celtics were able to muster up in the first quarter of this massacre. I guess those numbers would be alarming to some people, but they are not to me. The Cavs played solid defense for this stretch but it was nothing to write home about. The Celtics got a bunch of decent looks, they just didn’t make them….any of them for that matter.
I don’t know if they were tired, unmotivated or whatever but I’m not concerned about it since the Celtics can’t possibly shoot that bad again for that long of a stretch. Ray went 0/7, Paul 2/7, Rondo and Baby a combined 0/4. It’s pretty hard for everyone to be that off at the same time. I wouldn’t count on it happening again this year.
4) Though it may not look it after yesterday, The Cavs still have some chinks in their armor.
The day was April 3rd, only a week and a half ago. The final result: Magic 116 Cavs 87 Take a look at that box score. The Cavs were down by as much as 40 in that one, a game that mattered for both teams. Lebron shot poorly, but he still went for 26-9-5. So everyone who wants to make a big deal out of this loss for the C’s, and point out how the Cavs are the heir apparent to the Eastern Conference throne, let’s not have too short of a memory about how this same terrific team laid a similar egg with their roster at full strength only 10 days back.
5) The Cavs showboated a little too much in this meaningless game…and the Celtics will remember it
This is less of a reason to be worried and more of an observation you could say. The Celtics don’t really need any extra inspiration to beat Cleveland in the playoffs. The focus will be there come May if their paths collide. However, its impossible for any competitor not to get a bit more riled up and motivated after seeing an opponent show them up. That is exactly what the Cavs did yesterday, dominating the C’s while dancing around on the sidelines, flexing, just hamming it up. Now don’t get me wrong, the Celtics have been guilty of doing the same thing, I just don’t think they did it to this degree. The Cavs right now are cocky, acting like they are the champions, but they are forgetting one important thing….they haven’t won anything yet.
One final quote from Ray Allen on seeing the Cavs celebrate:
“I’m always going to remember that. If I beat a team, as happy as I may be in victory, I’m always going to stay humble and always remember that there’s another day. We play each other too much. Those are great motivational thoughts for me.”
The Celtics likely do not need this extra motivation, but a little extra bitterness toward Lebron and the boys can’t hurt the cause if we see them in another month right? It might not be enough change the outcome of the series, and it’s clear the Cavs will be favored if we play in the ECF (as they should.) Don’t count out these defending champions though. Not yet, anyway.