By: Jeffrey Newholm
Sometimes in life there’s one man people really don’t like. To ignore the issue, people sometimes use strange linguistic gymnastics. Thus Voldemort became “he who must not be named”. (Didn’t do the wizarding world much good however). Donald Trump to one reporter became “the successful Republican candidate for President”. (And still the President whatever one calls him). Alas, none of this changes reality. As Juliet observed in the famous window scene, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet”. In the same vein, whether one calls a certain NBA player the King, King James, Lewhine, or simply LeBron James, the Boston Celtics have to answer the east’s Riddler to advance to the finals for the first time since 2010.
Going off just the stats, he who must be guarded actually hasn’t impressed much this postseason. LeBron had a +/- of + 10 and +10.8 in the 2016 and 2017 postseasons respectively and is just at +2.5 this year. Much of this is due to the Cavs’ awful showings in games one and six against the Pacers. But without LeBron’s controversial block and quick-trigger three in game five, the Cavs would have lost the series. And look closer at the Toronto series. In that four game sweep, James had a +/- of +13.8 and averaged 34 points in a exhausting 42 minutes a game. LeBron has led a jailbreak out of the weak east for seven years in a row–but Brad Stevens is not your average warden.
When Kyrie Irving joined Gordon Heyward on the injured list, some reflexively said the season was over. But whoever said this forgot to tell the former Butler coach. The Celtics fought hard to vanquish the stubborn Bucks by winning four games in Boston. They then bested a feisty young Sixer squad by overcoming a 22 point deficit to win game two, premature confetti to take a 3-0 lead, and then from an accidently made free throw by Marcus Smart to end the series with Smart’s steal. Six Celtics averaged double figures in scoring against the Sixers, with Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier doing most of the work with at least 37 minutes a game. (However, Aron Baynes was dancing to someone else’s tune with a +/- of -8). The Celtics put in a lot of effort to earn home court in this series. But is it enough?
The firing of Dwayne Casey is a rude reminder that only the playoffs matter in the NBA. Well balanced teams can win many regular season games. However, except for extremely talented teams, it takes a megastar to win when it counts. The Gregg Popovich Spurs, with the best record against LeBron in the finals, are one of those teams. But are the Celtics comparable? They’re certainly a better sell than the 60 win Hawk or 59 win Raptors the Cavs swept. But they’ll have a much tougher time at home then they had against the inexperienced Bucks and Sixers. All the Cavs have to do to reach a fourth straight finals is steal one at the Garden and hold home court. The Celtics will put up a better fight than last year, but the successful draft pick from Akron will find a way to win game seven in Boston.