Blakely: Cavs, C's have similar records, but remain worlds apart

Blakely: Cavs, C's have similar records, but remain worlds apart

BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took over as the Celtics’ coach in 2013, you would have been ridiculed as someone who isn’t just drinking - but drowning – in that Celtics Green Kool-Aid if you said they would be in first place by April of 2017.
But even as they went into Wednesday’s matchup with Cleveland atop the Eastern Conference standings with an identical 50-27 record as the Cavs, it still didn’t seem real.


And as we saw in Cleveland’s annihilation of the Celtics, Boston isn’t quite ready for the Cavs, who played one of their best games of the season in crushing the Celtics, 114-91.
“Just trying to get our team right,” said Cleveland’s LeBron James. “Going down the stretch brings out the best in me.”
The Cavs made shots.
They forced turnovers.
They contested shots and when the Celtics missed, Cleveland was there to gobble up the rebound of Boston’s misses as well as their own.
“They were better, quicker to the ball, you name it,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “They were better in every category, and made it really tough on us. We didn’t match them.”
And that was kind of the point leading into Wednesday’s game, that the Celtics’ rebuilding efforts had them on the cusp of being able to dethrone the Cavs.
After all, 77 games into the season, with five to go, Boston was – on paper at least – Cleveland’s equal.
But as we saw plain as day, Boston isn’t ready for that life just yet.
There is a maturation process that the Celtics must go through to truly be among the elite teams in the NBA.
And while the Celtics have every reason to feel good about where they are, it’s clear that they aren’t as far along in this title-chasing process as their record might lead one to believe.
Countless times in the past month or so, Stevens has reminded anyone within earshot that the Celtics’ play isn’t necessarily at the same level as their record might lead one to believe.
And that has created this false narrative that this team that, because of their record, they are a legit threat to come out of the Eastern Conference.
But then comes a night like Wednesday, one in which the Celtics are totally outplayed by the defending champions, who for long stretches this season, looked nothing like the team to beat.
But as Stevens had warned the media about earlier this week, the Cavs’ numbers this season (especially their defensive ones) and the way they play against the Celtics are not one in the same.
Not even close.
The loss to Cleveland exposed many of the flaws that have dogged the Celtics this season.
When Isaiah Thomas goes to the bench, Boston has no clear No. 2 scorer who can pick up the slack.
We saw with Cleveland that when LeBron James went to the bench, Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love were usually still on the floor which gave them a pair of players who could create their own scoring opportunities in the paint (Love on post-ups, Irving on drives to the rim) in addition to making the Celtics pay with their perimeter shooting prowess.
Putting five shooters on the floor spreads the Celtics defense extremely thin to the point where they couldn’t really double-team or tilt much against the Cavs, a game plan that Cleveland had no choice but to execute due to Tristan Thompson’s thumb injury.
Because of that, Cleveland and its shooters had a field day, connecting on 46.7 percent of their shots (43-for-92).
While Boston hasn’t totally given up on getting the No. 1 seed in the East, they know the road to the top just got steeper and the terrain, a lot rougher.
If Boston has to settle for being the No. 2 seed in the East, that is an accomplishment in itself, the kind that would have gotten you ridiculed if you made such a bold declaration back in 2013.
The Celtics are a team with great potential.
We’ve seen that all season.
But the Cavs’ loss reminded us all that when it comes to beating the champ, the Celtics still have some growing pains to endure before they’re ready to dethrone LeBron James and company.

Celtics falter in fourth, Davis dominates

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics falter in fourth, Davis dominates

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 108-89 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. 


Anthony Davis: The Boston Celtics had no answer for how to contain Anthony Davis who got anything and everything he wanted, all game. He finished with a double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 14-for-24 from the field.



Jayson Tatum: The Celtics didn’t get many players who elevated their play against the Pelicans, but Tatum did. He led the team with 23 points on 9-for-14 shooting. 

Rajon Rondo: It was vintage Rondo – few points, lots of assists and with that, a huge impact. The former Celtics All-Star had 11 assists with just one turnover, to go with four points.

Marcus Morris: He finished with 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Morris prides himself on an inside-outside scorer, but he really should have focused more on his 3-point shot when you consider he was 5-for-7 from 3-point range. 

Cheick Diallo: You're always suspect of a player you rarely heard of putting up big numbers in a blowout. But let’s be clear: Diallo’s scoring was on display when Sunday’s game was relatively competitive. He would finish with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. 



Fourth Quarter Celtics: It was a dismal stretch of play no matter how you cut it. Boston shot just 20 percent from the field in the fourth (4-for-20), 25 percent from 3-point range (2-for-8) while allowing New Orleans to shoot better than 50 percent in the quarter (10-for-19, 52.9 percent).

Abdel Nader: There were several things that went wrong for the Celtics in the fourth, but few stand out as much as Abdel Nader’s struggles from the free throw line. A 72-percent free throw shooter this season, Nader was 2-for-8 from the line which included him missing five in a row.


Celtics have no answer for Davis in loss to Pelicans, 108-89

AP Photo

Celtics have no answer for Davis in loss to Pelicans, 108-89

The Boston Celtics found themselves on the comeback trail most of the second half on Sunday, with a pathway toward success remaining elusive all night as the New Orleans Pelicans got a much-needed 108-89 win over the Boston Celtics. 

MVP candidate Anthony Davis had another huge game against the Celtics as he tallied 34 points and 11 rebounds.

Boston (47-23) has now lost three of its last four games, while the Pelicans (40-30) are hoping Sunday’s victory will jumpstart them after losing four of their previous five games prior to Sunday night’s victory. 

The game’s turning point came in the fourth quarter when Boston’s Abdel Nader was fouled on a 3-point attempt with Boston trailing 82-76. 

On the play, New Orleans head coach Alvin Gentry was whistled for a technical foul. 

Nader, a 72.0 percent free throw shooter this season, missed all four – yes, all four – free throws.

New Orleans responded with a 10-3 run and their control of the game was never an issue afterwards.

It was indeed a tale of two different halves as New Orleans opened the third quarter with an 11-3 run to lead 58-52. 

The Pelicans continued to soldier on as their lead peaked at 11 points following a free throw by Davis made it a 76-65 game. 

Boston was able to cut into New Orleans’ lead but still trailed 82-76 going into the fourth quarter.

The ending was in stark contrast to how the night began for Boston.

The Celtics continued their run of strong starts to games, with an 8-0 run which sucked for the New Orleans Pelicans fans who stood on their feet until New Orleans finally scored on a lay-up by ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo with 8:35 to play in the first.

That would be the catalyst for a much-needed spurt by the Pelicans which brought then within 10-8. 

But Boston didn’t waste any time putting some distance between the team and New Orleans as the Celtics maintained a comfortable 28-20 lead at the end of the first quarter which extended Boston’s run of leads after one quarter of play, to nine in a row and 11 of the last 12.

The second quarter proved to be a much tighter affair for the Celtics as the Pelicans took their first lead of the game, 43-42, on a lob dunk by Davis. 

New Orleans lead didn’t last long as Boston closed out the quarter by scoring seven of the game’s last 11 points to lead 49-47 at the half. 

Despite having a patchwork lineup because of injuries, Boston still managed to spend most of the game playing with a lead. Fill-in starter Marcus Morris was a matchup nightmare for the Pelicans as the 6-foot-9 forward had 14 points in the first half.

Boston also got a strong first half from Jayson Tatum who led all Celtics with 15 points in the first half, and a team-high 23 for the game.