Do the Celtics Have Any Shot at Slowing Down the Cavaliers?
The Cleveland Cavaliers continued their postseason dominance Wednesday night with a 117-104 shellacking of the Boston Celtics, improving their postseason record to 9-0. The Cavs looked superior in all facets of the game, which leads us to wonder: Is there anything Boston can do to challenge a Cleveland team that appears to be flat-out better than them?
All Bad for Boston
Boston had zero answers for LeBron James and the Cavs from the opening tip. According to NBA.com's ever-reliable stats page, the lineup most used by Boston -- Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Thomas -- boasted a defensive rating of 186.9 in the eight minutes they played together. Yikes.
The second-most used lineup head coach Brad Stevens trotted out (with Amir Johnson instead of Olynyk) was better, with a 111.1 defensive rating, but was awful on the offensive side of the ball, only scoring 78.8 points per 100 possessions. Yikes again.
How Can They Be Better in Game 2?
It feels like there isn't much the Celtics can do to stop a Cavs team on a mission. (Actually, with apologies to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, it feels like there isn't much the Celtics can do to stop LeBron James when he's on a mission.) That said, they'll try, and try hard.
Stevens could think about having kinda-sorta-MVP-candidate Thomas play more against the Cavaliers' second unit. Cleveland's backups would be, to quote Shaquille O'Neal, barbecue chicken against Thomas, particularly if Boston could get the older, slower Deron Williams switched onto Thomas in pick-and-roll situations. The feisty Thomas would relish the extra minutes and bigger challenge.
On Wednesday, Boston rookie Jaylen Brown was as good as any Celtic in the first half -- he was 4 for 4 from the field with 8 points, to go along with 4 rebounds and 1 assist, and some perky, pesky defense against LeBron. Stevens may need to think about giving the rookie more minutes -- he only saw 19:45 in Game 1 -- to slow some of the bleeding.
Finally, Boston has to do a better job of getting a body on Tristan Thompson. Logic tells us that Amir Johnson would help on the glass, but logic might not have heard that in Johnson's four minutes of action on Wednesday -- Boston had a minus-32.3 net rating. If the C's allow Thompson to grab 6 offensive rebounds and score 20 points on 7 for 7 shooting like he did in Game 1, they'll get run off the court once again.
Slowing the King
No matter what Boston does, there's no answer for James. He went over, around, and through the entire state of Massachusetts en route to a 38-point, 9-rebound, 7-assist night, and the matchups tell us it could happen again.
Horford and Olynyk don't have the foot speed to stay in front of LeBron. Marcus Smart and Bradley lack the size to bother James when he decides to bully his way to the basket...or back them down on the block, shoot over the top...or, well, do anything.
Thomas is Boston's best offensive weapon, but a liability on the other end of the court. James put Thomas in many pick-and-roll situations, forcing Thomas -- who's almost a full foot shorter than the King -- to do...something. It didn't go well: The Celtics were outscored by 20 points when Thomas was on the floor.
And therein lies the ultimate conundrum for Brad Stevens: Where do you hide your best offensive weapon (and tiniest defender) against a Cleveland squad who, on Wednesday, appeared to has no offensive weaknesses?
If the Boston Celtics can't find a way to slow down LeBron -- or at least make things difficult for the Chosen One -- the series will be over in 4 and they'll have plenty of free time to think about what to do with their number-one overall pick.