Celtics

Celtics

CLEVELAND -- There was a familiar tone to the words spoken by the Boston Celtics following their 113-100 Game 1 loss to Cleveland on Sunday.

Disappointment?

Yes.

But far from discouraged or desperate which is a good sign going into Game 2 on Tuesday.

When you look back at how Cleveland's Kyrie Irving absolutely dismantled Boston’s defense with 30 points on 11-for-21 shooting, the knee-jerk reaction would be to radically tinker with the coverage plans on defending him.

Of course Boston will address how to better deal with Irving in some capacity, but he wasn’t the biggest problem they faced in Game 1 – they were.

Whether it was Avery Bradley missing shots or Isaiah Thomas turning the ball over or the Cavs punishing the Celtics on the offensive glass, self-improvement has to come first.

And that is why despite being major underdogs in this series and now being down 1-0, this team doesn’t seem all that bothered by their circumstance.

“It’s the first team to win four games,” Kelly Olynyk told me prior to Game 1. “Regardless of what happens in this first game, we still have to move on to the next one. It’s important, they’re all important, but the first game isn’t going to decide the series whether we win or lose.”

Olynyk’s words speak for the core of this young team, a team that has embodied the stay-in-the-moment identity of their head coach Brad Stevens.

Boston has had so many highs in recent weeks, winning seven of eight in the month of April which garnered Stevens his first Eastern Conference Coach of the Month award in April.

 

And yet when you look back at the way Stevens has handled the team’s recent success, it mirrors how he dealt with the Celtics' early struggles.

That’s why this team, while disappointed in their Game 1 loss, isn’t anywhere close to panicking after dropping the series opener.

Just like it’s unlikely that Avery Bradley will shoot the ball as poorly (7 points, 3-for-10 shooting) as he did in Game 1, it’s also unlikely that Kyrie Irving will go for 30 points as easily as he did in the opener.

As both Celtics players and head coach Brad Stevens pointed out, there were some positives to take from Game 1 and could prove beneficial in Game 2.

When Boston ran pick-and-roll actions and wound up with Kevin Love switched out, good things happened for Boston.

He was a human turnstile in Minnesota when it came to defense.

Love has clearly made progress in this area, but his defensive deficiencies remain an area that Boston will surely look to exploit more of in Game 2.

And the Celtics have to show better respect for Cleveland’s bench.

Because for all the talk about the Cavs’ Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, it was their bench in Game 1 that saved the day.

Love looked totally out of sorts in the first half, but it didn’t really affect Cleveland because Tristan Thompson (9 points, 5 rebounds in the first half) was there to fill that frontcourt void.

And when Boston was on a 14-0 run that cut Cleveland’s lead to just six points in the third quarter, it was backup small forward James Jones’ turnaround jumper that ended the Cleveland cold spell.

But even more significant, it triggered a 9-0 Cavs run to end the third which put Boston in the kind of hole it could not climb its way out of.

“It’s tough playing against a great team like that, to cut the lead numerous times,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “You can do it once or twice, but after that it takes a lot out of you.”

Even with the loss, and even with LeBron James (20 points, six rebounds, seven assists) playing in cruise control, the Celtics have an unshakeable, Teflon-tough confidence heading into Game 2.

It comes from winning games this season that, much like this series on paper, they have no business competing with let alone defeating their opponent.

Having conquered their share of Eastern Conference Goliaths of late, the challenge ahead of them now only seems daunting to those of us outside the Celtics locker room.

“Guys are ready for Game Two knowing that you have to have a short memory,” Thomas said. “There’s possibly seven games in this series. It can go either way. We’re still confident and we’re excited."