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.
Before Wednesday night’s game between the Celtics and Cavs, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who felt these two teams were equal. even if their shared 50-27 record might suggest otherwise.
And as you pick through the carnage left in the wake of Cleveland’s 114-91 beatdown, the difference between these two was pronounced in so many ways as the Cavs handed Boston their most lopsided home loss this season.
Tied in first place at the beginning of the night, the Celtics have not played a more important regular season game under Brad Stevens. Knowing that, the fans roared early. Pregame intros buzzed with electricity. James heard boos whenever he touched the ball.Several Patriots figures, including LeGarrette Blount, Stephon Gilmore and Robert Kraft, showed up to see what figured to be a good basketball game.
Instead, the football guys watched the Celtics get cracked on the glass early, shredded by Cleveland’s small-ball lineups in the second quarter, and outclassed throughout one of their worst outings this season. The Cavaliers defense has wobbled mightily since the All-Star break, but solidified enough to hold Boston to 40.7 percent shooting, including 21.2 percent from behind the arc.
Later, we caught JR Smith in an unguarded moment different from the unguarded moments he experienced on the court as he went for a dozen points.
You guys took this personally, he was told/asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “Of course we did.”
JR then nodded toward the other side of the dressing room where LeBron sat.
“He took it personal.”
“We were lucky it wasn’t worse,” offered Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Added Thomas: “[The Cavaliers] were on a different level than us tonight. They played harder than us in every aspect of the game. … It’s very disappointing. We laid an egg tonight. There’s no way around that.”
ESPN Boston – Celtics miss another chance to step into the limelight
It was definitely a sign when the Cavs got three offensive rebounds in their first two possessions, despite Tristan Thompson being out injured. Meanwhile, the Celtics committed two turnovers. For the rest of the long, ugly game, the defending NBA champs displayed playoff intensity and the Celtics simply didn’t match it. When you’re suffering from a talent deficit, you damn well better play harder than the other team, or you’ll get crushed. Like last night.
In particular, LeBron James steamrolled the Cs all night long. The night before, LeBron had played down the importance of a regular season contest – even with first seed at stake – but against Boston he was motivated as hell. He played 38 minutes and scored 36 points (both game highs), shooting 14 for 22 and adding 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. He was +32. As Tommy Heinsohn put it during the third quarter, “LeBron is sitting on his throne. He’s King here tonight.”
Meanwhile, only Isaiah Thomas showed up for the Celtics, attacking as usual and dropping 26 points with six dimes. Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart were invisible (each with four points on 1-8 shooting). The bench failed too, scoring just three points total in the first half as the Celts fell behind by 15 at intermission. The game was already over by then.
Cleveland now has a one-game lead plus the tie-breaker (3-1 head-to-head) for the top seed. If the Cs win two of their remaining four games, they’ll clinch the second seed. And isn’t that where they belong?
Look, no one wanted the Cs to get blown out on national TV in a crucial game. We all expected a competitive game last night and possibly a win. But in the big picture, how many fans truly believed Boston was better than LeBron and Co.? Who among us predicted the Celtics would get the first seed? No one, that’s who. The consensus in pre-season was that Brad’s guys should win more than 50 games, get home court in the first round, and take one or two playoff series. Well, so far, so good.
In yesterday’s Dump we said that the Cavs game would be a true test of this Celtics squad. The Cs failed. But if this wakes them up for the intensity of the playoffs, then they will have learned a valuable lesson.
Related: MassLive – LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers’ blowout win over Boston Celtics not a statement game | Avery Bradley: LeBron James exposed Boston Celtics defense, saw something they couldn’t figure out | Could Boston Celtics still get No. 1 seed? Probably not, but here’s how it could happen | Globe – Celtics manhandled by Cavaliers, fall a game back | Celtics were clearly not up to this challenge | Herald – Buckley: LeBron James’ arrogance justified in Cavaliers’ rout | Celtics notebook: Isaiah Thomas can only sit and watch when Cavaliers make game-deciding run | NESN – Celtics Notes: C’s Struggle To Find Consistency When Isaiah Thomas Rests | CBS Sports – LeBron James quiets Boston, noise about Cavaliers in dominant victory | CSNNE – Blakely: Cavs, C’s Have Similar Records, But Remain Worlds Apart | Sporting News – LeBron James shows Celtics, rest of East how much of a problem he still is
On Page 2: Another milestone for The Little Guy
Appearing on the cover of SLAM magazine is another dream come true for Isaiah Thomas. Watch the video below of him seeing the cover for the first time. In situations like these, The Little Guy usually comes across like a little kid, in the best way possible: wide-eyed, happy, amazed at his good fortune, humbled by his stature as the best small man in the game.
At the same time, he is The King in the Fourth, the self-proclaimed cold-blooded “killa” whose confidence is off the charts. He also understands that some people will forever dismiss him and his achievements because he’s not 6-foot-5. They say he’s not a leader, not a “foundational” player. But proving them wrong, again and again, is IT’s superpower.
Thomas has had a phenomenal season, setting a multitude of franchise scoring records, easily earning another All-Star nod, and elevating himself into the MVP conversation. No wonder he’s on the cover of SLAM.
Bonus: The O.G. IT preaches about Boston’s IT
Isaiah isn’t really the MVP, but these were some solid comments.
And, finally: Horford wins the Auerbach Award
This award goes to the player who best exemplifies what it means to be a Celtic. Al probably clinched it the moment he agreed to come to Boston.
Related: Providence Journal – Celtics Journal: Horford wins Red Auerbach Award
The Rest of the Links: