The Celtics entered the playoffs as the No.1 seed in the East but weren’t favored on its home floor in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a friendly reminder to Boston and its fan base. Despite the Green’s regular season success, Cleveland remains a tier above the rest of East.
It showed on the scoreboard Wednesday night when the Cavaliers destroyed the Celtics 117-104, in a game that never appeared to be in doubt. But after two series sweeps prior to Wednesday night’s beat down, the loss shouldn’t come as a shock. Realistically, the Celtics chances at winning this series are slim to none. But for a team, which now holds the No.1 overall pick in the 2017 draft and boasts the youngest roster remaining in the playoffs, the end result of this series isn’t the important part. It matters more what the Celtics can get out of the series that can’t be measured in the win-loss column.
Despite just 17 points from its leading scorer in Game 1, Boston broke the century mark for the 11th time in its fourteen postseason games this season. Jaylen Brown and Gerald Green both displayed the ability to play against superb competition. Brown, who matched up with James frequently, shot over 70 percent from the field, while snagging 9 rebounds in just 19 minutes of play. Brown is the first of the Celtics Brooklyn picks, the first piece to whatever the Green plan on developing over the next few off-seasons with its abundance of assets. Getting him playoff minutes, against one of the league’s all-time greats, is about as valuable as any experience the rookie could have in his first season in the NBA. Green, who hasn’t stuck out in his second stint in Boston, provided much of the scoring that made the game look close. His 11 points in 13 minutes, including 3 for 5 shooting from beyond the arc, showed promise for his role moving forward. Boston can’t rely on outbursts such as Olynyk’s 26 point flare against Washington to carry it to victory but it’s going to need some bench scoring going forward if it wants to challenge the top franchises in the league.
The bottom line is the Celtics are playing with house money. Now is the time to test the waters of playing against the league’s best when it truly matters. Boston hasn’t played in the conference finals since 2012 with the Big Three. This is the new era’s first exposure to the big stage, and that includes its coach Brad Stevens. Stevens has coached in big moments in the NCAA Tournament leading Butler to multiple Final Four appearances, but it’s hard to compare those to defending James and the slew of weapons that accompany him. In Game 1, the Celtics struggled to cover not only James but the other threats which surround him.
James has long been the best player in the NBA and come playoff time he will get his points (38 in Game 1). Boston needs to find a way to adjust defensively. If James is going to score 38 the Celtics can’t over shift to him and allow Kevin Love to hit open shot after open shot en route to a 32 point performance. Defending one of the league’s best offenses is no easy task, it requires practice.
With each game this series this young Celtics team becomes more seasoned. It’s a roster already ahead of schedule but still no where near where it needs to be and should be a few years down the line. The first Brooklyn pick is only a rookie, there is only one max contracted player on the roster, the Celtics aren’t ready yet. But since they are here, it’s time to use the opportunity to prepare for the promising seasons to come.