To say that the last two playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers have been ugly for the Celtics would be an understatement.
They were swept in the first round of the 2015 playoffs, and lost in five games last year, though all four of their losses were by double-digits including a 44-point loss and 33-point loss both at home.
So yeah, Sunday’s Game 1 win in Boston over the Cavs was a deep breath of fresh air.
You won’t find anybody on the Boston Celtics exhaling just yet though – not as long as LeBron James is on the other side of the court.
But on Sunday, James looked – dare we say – human out there on the court. Just 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting to go along with seven turnovers, some uncharacteristically lazy defense, and a game-worst minus-32.
And as the entire season has gone for this Cavs team, they are only as good as James is on any given night.
More than ever, they are dependent on their superstar, which could spell doom for them as Brad Stevens’ Celtics appear, at least through one game, to have answers defensively that put the onus on James’ teammates more than anyone in Cleveland would like.
And it starts with the play of Marcus Morris, traded over to the Celtics in what is shaping up to be a historic 2017 offseason, who led the charge in clamping down on James, while getting help from teammates like Al Horford and Marcus Smart.
Morris talked the talk leading up to Game 1, embracing the challenge ahead. But he was able to back it up out there, too, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds. A Celtics first-quarter charge put them in the driver’s seat early. By halftime, James was staring at his largest halftime deficit (26 points) in 229 playoff games, according to ESPN.
There was no comeback for the King this time.
Now the Celtics have something positive to build off of against the Cavs going into Game 2 tonight.
“It’s huge,” Smart said. “Last couple playoff meetings they blew us out the water. We got a different team just like they do and a lot of younger guys. So for [the younger guys] to see that and have that feeling of them winning like we did [Sunday] was huge.”
Of course, Tyronn Lue and the Cavs will have to make adjustments. There is a thought that Tristan Thompson will be inserted into the starting lineup and the Cavs will go big for longer stretches. Will that make Brad Stevens tinker with his starting lineup as well, and put Aron Baynes in? Or will Stevens stick with the current unit and adjust in-game?
And can Boston really expect back-to-back clunkers from James? Or for the Cavs to shoot 15-percent from three-point range? Or another 60-38 difference in points in the paint? That all depends on how much credit you give Boston for causing those things.
One thing we do know: The basketball world may finally be starting to see what those who have closely followed this team see.
The C’s aren’t just happy to be here.
They have been underdogs in every game since the start of the second round against the Sixers. They are 6-1 in those games. As of Monday, though, it was a “pick ’em” for Game 2. Still not quite the “favorite” yet.
But with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward watching from the sidelines, the Celtics continue to silence the doubters and pick apart the opponent one at a time.