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.
Their performance has exceeded expectations, but it’s the spirit with which guys like Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown play that makes them so damn fun. It’s hard not to smile as Tatum sinks three after three, or as Smart throws his body around the court, or as Horford dunks the Cavs back to The Land Before LeBron Traded Everyone Away. We have Rozier to thank for some of the best recent NBA beef, which he gave us when he called the Bucks’ Eric Bledsoe “Drew,” then wore an old Drew Bledsoe Patriots jersey before Game 1 against the Sixers. These guys are the cheeky underdogs shocking the world with absolutely delightful basketball.
The problem, though, is that we’re not in an alternate universe. We’re in this one, in which the Celtics are from Boston. And anything related to Boston sports is unlovable for most of this country.
If you aren’t a fan, Boston sports makes you seriously consider putting on a Browns jersey and walking slowly out into the ocean. You probably hate all the city’s teams. The Red Sox have become somewhat villainous (three World Series in 15 years will do that, not to brag) despite Mookie Betts’ intense likability. [It’s more than “somewhat.” —Ed.] The Patriots are football’s Death Star. The Bruins are out here licking people’s faces. The city’s fans just make everything worse. We (yes, sorry, I’m one of them) are entitled, and the rest of the country can unanimously agree that we are the worst. Philadelphia is the only city that can give us a run for our money.
After getting this far, let alone potentially advancing to the Finals (I don’t dare write “winning the Finals,” because I don’t want to jinx it, and also because the West is the West), the Celtics won’t have any claim to any level of underdog status for a while. Especially once Irving and Hayward come back. The team’s charm might remain, but their Bostonness—and the reputation of the fans who root for them—will negate it for most of the country.
Sports Illustrated: America Would Love These Celtics if They Weren’t From Boston
The headline of that article made me think it was going to be another anti-Boston rant, but it’s actually the opposite. Despite the snide editor’s note stuck in the middle, the piece is a love letter to the city’s teams and fans.
And it makes a solid point: Although the Celtics should be a feel-good story, people do seem to have difficulty giving them credit for their achievements. And the more they win, the more ridiculous crap that flows their way from fans, media, players, coaches and commentators.
- The Bucks losing, yet claiming they were the better team.
- The excuses that the Celtics didn’t actually beat Philly, because the Sixers gave the series away.
- The multitude of “experts” who predicted a Cavs sweep.
- Laker fans, wallowing in their irrelevance, emerging on Twitter with nonsensical claims that their young players are better than the Boston kids.
- The backlash against Brad Stevens, who is apparently too good, too soon, for some people’s liking – especially his fellow coaches.
- The argument that the roster, despite losing two All-Stars for the season to injuries, is not undermanned and overachieving, but instead is a superteam loaded with high draft picks.
- Critics calling Horford “Average Al” in the regular season, but now that he’s dominating, moving the goalposts on him (“we knew he was capable of playing like this all along”).
- The baffling notion that the playoff success proves Irving and/or Hayward should be traded because when they’re healthy the Cs essentially will have too many good players.
Despite all that, I believe there are many NBA fans who are pulling for the Celtics to knock off LeBron. There are more who desperately hope to avoid a Dubs-Cavs Finals Part 4. And there are more again who would like to see the arrogant Warriors go down in flames to this entertaining Celtics squad.
If all that happens, then those people can go back to hating us again next season. We won’t give a rat’s ass.
On Page 2: The road ahead
“My reaction is, I can’t wait for Game 3, and I’ll just leave it at that,” said second-year forward Jaylen Brown, who is one of only four players remaining from the team that won Game 3 in Cleveland last year during the Eastern Conference finals.
“I think we’re pretty confident, just as confident as we were at home,” Brown added. “There’s a difference definitely between being on the road and at home, just the energy disparity. At home the energy is for you, away it’s against you. But if you do what you’re supposed to do and you are who you are, it’ll show, home or away.”
The Celtics’ offensive rating plummets by 12 points per 100 possessions on the road, dropping from a robust 111.9 at home to a meager 99.9 on the road. And Boston’s defensive rating skyrockets from 101.1 to 109.3.
Boston’s struggles stem largely from a reserve unit that has struggled to impact games away from home. Boston’s starters are shooting 45 percent on the road this postseason, but bench players have combined to shoot just 33 percent.
Being booed by 18,000 people while trying to sink a clutch free throw would intimidate the average human being. But NBA players are not average.
Fortunately, by now the Celtics all know what to expect. They understand how difficult it is to win a Game 3 to take a 3-0 lead – but they know from experience that it’s possible. They’re saying the right things.
Celtics players admitted they were surprised by the intensity of the road when they lost Game 3 of their first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston players are ready for what awaits in Cleveland with the Cavaliers facing what amounts to a must-win situation.
“We can’t afford to be surprised this time around,” Smart said. “We understand that. We’re just trying to make it as hard as we can on those guys for them to win a game and for us to execute whatever game plan [coach] Brad [Stevens] has for us.
“We’ve got to be the one to hit first. Going into somebody else’s house, you can’t allow them to get a hold of it first. It’s going to be hard for us. So we’ve got to come out as hard as possible and punch first.”
Tomorrow night will be the most important game that most of these Celtics have ever played in, and probably the hardest to win. But the way this postseason has gone, anything – as someone once said – is possible.
Related – NBA.com: It happens every spring: LeBron James forced to carry Cleveland Cavaliers | Globe (subscription): Celtics look to change playoff road fortunes
And, finally… Hell freezes over
Ironically, he’s one of the critics from the lead item above, but (assuming he wasn’t hacked) kudos to the No. 1 LeBron fan in sports media for acknowledging a truth:
The Rest of the Links:
MassLive: Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics wing, can back up on-court trash talk: ‘There’s nothing I can’t do’ | Boston Celtics, Jaylen Brown hope to shake road woes: ‘I can’t wait for Game 3, and I’ll just leave it at that’
Herald: Cavs coach Ty Lue might want to change his goony tune | Celtics guard Marcus Smart sticks his attitude into the Cavaliers | Celtics guard “Scary Terry’ Rozier ready to spook his hometown Cleveland | Cavaliers look to regroup from solid C’s punch
Boston Sports Journal (subscription): Terry Rozier talks about his uncertain future with Celtics amid breakout postseason
Deseret News: Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics managed just fine without Gordon Hayward (it’s so appropriate that Utah’s capital is Salt Lake City)