Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
Danny Ainge made a big bet by doing nothing at the trade deadline, one that set him up for significant blame if the Celtics had flamed out in the playoffs or if they had slipped down to No. 4 in Tuesday’s lottery. All around him, aspiring contenders like Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, and Houston loaded up in January and February. In the days before the deadline, the Celtics were linked to win-now trade scenarios involving Jimmy Butler and Paul George. By resisting both blockbuster trades and smaller moves, Ainge was hoping Boston could live up to its eventual No. 1 seed status while also playing for the future.
That bet was looking dicey when Boston trailed Chicago 2-0 in the first round. Now it looks brilliant. The Celtics eliminated the Wizards in Game 7 on Monday and will host the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday. In between, they added the right to draft Washington’s Markelle Fultz and/or trade the selection as part of a package for a star player. Ainge is having his cake and eating it too: Boston faces zero pressure to beat Cleveland given how well LeBron James is playing and now Ainge holds all the cards in a loaded lottery. Butler’s Bulls, George’s Pacers and Blake Griffin’s Clippers all bounced out in the first round, and the Celtics have a laundry list of flexible contracts, young prospects and now the No. 1 pick to drive their pursuits of trades and high-profile free agents.
Danny Ainge may be sitting atop the mountain, but the hard work is on the horizon. Just thinking about the off-season hurts my brain.
Drafting Markelle Fultz (yes, he can play with Isaiah) and signing Gordon Hayward seems like an obvious Plan A, but it’s no gimme. First, Hayward has to pass up $40 million. Second, the Celtics have to gut their roster. Amir, Jerebko, Young, Green, Zeller, Mickey, and Jackson are the easy choices. But in order to reach $30 million AAV for Hayward, they have to relinquish Olynk, convince Yabusele to play overseas another season and trade Rozier. Trading Bradley and/or Crowder are also options to be moved. That’s a lot of movement, even for Trader Danny. (h/t Celtics Blog)
Ainge could revisit talks for Jimmy Butler or Paul George, but there’s no way he’s moving the #1 pick in any deal. That ship has sailed.
Let’s say Ainge gets one of those guys (provided George realizes playing for the Lakers will keep him out of the playoffs for at least 3 years) in a reasonable deal and resigns Thomas. Then what?
Drafting Fultz, resigning Thomas, adding Ante Zizic, trading Bradley (he’s an UFA in 2018), qualifying Olynyk, while adding a rotation player might be the realistic move going forward.
But realistic doesn’t always happen:
On Page, let’s not forget there’s a game tonight.
Game one of this series will likely be the most difficult for the Cavs. If the Celtics are going to extend this series, it’ll be due to a lack of execution by Cleveland. Whether it be as a result of turnovers, failing to make them pay on the boards, or sloppy execution on the defensive end, the Celtics need help from the Cavs to extend this series. Following nine days off, game one rust may prove to be Boston’s best chance at capitalizing on that.
For the Cavs, their ability to limit Thomas will determine how much success they have on the defensive end. In the past the team has tried to get teams out of their rhythm offensively by making role players make decisions. They have achieved this by trapping hard and forcing the primary initiator to give the ball up.
Against Thomas, the best method to slow him down will likely include both trapping, and targeting him on the defensive end of the floor. The Cavs have not been shy in past playoff series to abandon the game plan and isolate a poor defender like Thomas. Regardless of where Boston tries to hide him, I anticipate the Cavs will try to involve him on the pick and roll and force Boston to either switch, or bring a double team.
The other key for this series will be the play of Al Horford. Over the past three seasons, Horford has struggled in a big way against Tristan Thompson. Thompson is bigger, quicker, and more physical than Horford. This season, Horford shot just 35.7 percent from the field with Thompson on him.
The Cavaliers last played on May 7. How can they not be rusty tonight?
I’m not crazy enough to think the Celtics will beat a healthy Cavaliers team, but I do think they can extend this series to 6 games. And to do that, they absolutely, positively have to win Game 1.
FWIW: the Cavs are 3-point favorites tonight and -550 to win the series.
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