When the Celtics dropped Game 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was some disappointment, but not much surprise.
But when they had their doors blown off in a historically lopsided Game 2? Yeah, that was bad.
Embarrassing is probably the word that comes to mind when thinking back on that Game 2 loss (at home, too). The LeBron James-led Cavs were on a completely different level than the Celts, and all everybody could do was watch and hope the Cavs didn’t win by 50.
They ended up winning by 44.
By all accounts, the series had ended after two games. Did the battered and beaten Celtics really still have to board a plane to Cleveland for two more games?
And if they did, just how much worse could things possibly get?
They did board – all but one, anyways. Celtics leading scorer Isaiah Thomas was ruled out for the remainder of the postseason the day after Game 2’s drubbing after re-aggravating a hip injury sustained in March.
The barely-breathing Celtics went in to Game 3 as 16.5-point underdogs and trailed by 21 points halfway through the third quarter. But somehow, someway, Boston clawed its way back as James could not get anything going. They took a fourth-quarter lead and Avery Bradley’s three-pointer at the buzzer delivered Boston the most improbable of wins, 111-108.
In fact, the 16.5-point underdog win is the biggest upset since 1998, according to ESPN.
How on earth did the C’s pull this off after virtually everybody left them for dead, and can they somehow do it again?
Smart the starter?
Marcus Smart is probably the most polarizing player on the Celtics in recent memory, perhaps even more so than Rajon Rondo. Everybody knows the scouting report on Smart: Plays in-your-face defense, hustles to everything, emotional as heck, inconsistent offensively. But Smart flipped that last scouting report on its head in Game 3, scoring a career-high 27 points including seven three-pointers. Is this guy a legitimate starting point guard? One game won’t prove it, but Smart showed the ability to lock in on both ends in a hostile environment and lead his team in a must-win game. It really doesn’t get any bigger than that, and Danny Ainge has to be smiling as his young players increase their worth in what will be an extremely interesting offseason.
Bron Bron revenge?
All it took was one bad game for the LeBron James haters to come out of hiding and puff out their chest: “You’d never see Michael Jordan put up those numbers in a game that big!” So. Much. Hate. It’s nothing that James hasn’t heard before – and trust that he does hear these things, “Zero Dark Thirty 23” or not. And those talking heads have every right to criticize James after his 11-point, six-turnover Game 3 – one of the worst playoff performances of his career. The question now is, how will James respond in Game 4? The other question is, does he even need to? The fact that the Cavs scored 108 points and James only scored 11 of them should concern the Celtics. Scoring wasn’t an issue for the Cavs even with a cold James; it was getting stops. That said, expect James to come out strong. It’s going to be all hands on deck slowing him down, which once again will benefit Kevin Love.
Is there hope?
So was the Celtics’ Game 3 win just fool’s gold, setting everybody up for a painful Game 5 in Boston? Or is there really something to Boston’s big win? Regardless, you have to give the Celtics this: Just when everybody had thought they had completely given up, the players rallied around one another and at the very least avoided a sweep. It was Jonas Jerebko who came out of nowhere this time. Who’s next? Is there anything left in Brad Stevens’ bag of tricks? Listening to a fired up Al Horford after the win, it’s easy to see that this team does believe in one another. It took three games, but the C’s finally punched the Cavs back. Sometimes seeing is believing, but we’re all going to have to see some borderline perfect Celtics basketball for their season to extend past this series.