Five takeways from Game 2: Celts learning hard lessons
CLEVELAND -- Two years ago, the Boston Celtics put together a strong run at the end of the regular season, good enough to catapult them into the playoffs. There they ran into a buzz saw better known to most of us as the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Celtics admitted afterwards it was an experience in which they learned a lot about themselves, as well as providing a much better feel for what it takes to win both in the regular season and the playoffs.
Fast forward to 2017 where the Celtics are once again on pace to get swept by the Cavaliers. Just like 2015, Boston will come away from this series being better for having gone through it.
And while the lessons learned may be painful to see unfold in real time now, rest assured this series will serve up plenty of teachable moments for the Celtics.
1. FIND SOME SHOT-MAKERS
LeBron James is a handful, obviously. But he’s at his best when he’s surrounded by shooters. And when you look at this Cavs roster, they have assembled arguably the best supporting cast he has played with -- yes, better than the crews he led to the Finals in Miami. Boston has made shooting a priority, evident by its ranking among the league’s best in terms of 3-pointers taken and made this season. But the Celtics still lack that knock-down, 3-point shooter who can do it consistently.
2. BATTLE-TESTED VETERANS
Championship-caliber teams usually are a balance between youth, young veterans and established pros. The Cavs' bench consists of proven veterans such as Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye as well as former All-Star point guard Deron Williams and defensive standout Iman Shumpert. For Boston, 31-year-old Gerald Green is the team’s most seasoned veteran. The Celtics could benefit greatly from having one or two more proven, established veterans coming off the bench.
3. BIG THREE REQUIRED
Isaiah Thomas was the Celtics’ best player all season, and the addition of Al Horford gave Boston a nice 1-2 punch in terms of impactful players. But as we’ve seen with the elite teams, there are at least three All-Star-worthy players on the roster if you’re talking about being a serious title contender. Cleveland has LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. And while Boston has some nice players in Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, the other Celtics have yet to elevate their games to a level in which they are viewed as All-Star worthy talent. Getting at least one more player in that mold (Gordon Hayward?) would go far in Boston’s quest to establish itself as a top-tier club.
4. SHOT CREATORS
As good as LeBron James is when it comes to getting his own shot, he has an elite sidekick who can be just as letha: K Kyrie Irving. Because of that, it becomes that much harder to lock on to one or the other. And on those nights when a team’s defense does a good job of helping via rotations on both players, often that will lead to wide-open shots for Kevin Love, which we have seen him take -- and make -- many times in the first two games of this series.
5. HEALTHY LEADER
The Cavs made the decision late in the season to rest LeBron James and other core players, knowing it would likely cost them the top seed in the East. The plan has worked to perfection -- literally -- with Cleveland currently riding a 10-0 record in this year’s postseason. Meanwhile, the top-seeded Celtics came into the Conference finals with their leader, Isaiah Thomas, far from being in tip-top shape. He has played through a series of injuries most of this season, but it appears all those bumps and bruises have finally caught up to him at the absolute worst time. He re-aggravated a right hip strain on Friday night that he initially suffered in Game 6 of Boston’s second-round series against Washington. His status for Game 3 is uncertain.