By Jeffrey Newholm
Children’s shows and movies can be frustrating to adult viewers. No matter what pickle SpongeBob or Inspector Gadget find themselves in, it’s not hard to guess the script of their escape. Same as the past eight years in the eastern conference. LeBron’s Heat dominated the Pacers and Bulls. Once the Cavs swept the 60 win Hawks the next four years passed with a yawn. Truthfully, by now we’re so fed up with happy endings fans secretly want the hero to perish. Thankfully, just as Roseanne Barr canceled her own show, LeWin took his talents to Hollywood, ending the east re-rerun. But don’t celebrate too soon. The Boston Celtics have enough talent to start their own streak and force the second round treadmill to slowly waste away challengers yet again.
The expected top story in last year’s playoffs was Kyrie vs. LeBron. The Cavs did meet Boston in the east finals, but Irving and Gordon Hayward were out. The Celtics took a 3-2 lead anyways but conceded game six and stumbled in the Boston finale. While both had to de-rust in Tuesday’s 105-87 opening win over Philadelphia, the formula for success had familiar ingredients. The C’s struggled from three, hitting just 11 of 37. But for fans of rugged basketball, the east still hasn’t seen better. Sloppy 6er turnovers turned the game into an ugly slog the veteran Celtics romped around. Boston is a near-unanimous pick for the 1 seed and undeniably has the most talent. But is Brad Stevens stuck with yesteryear’s playbook?
Viewers of the Rockets-Warriors semifinals didn’t need to imagine too deeply to foresee the east champ buried. True, Boston would likely rout similarly built Toronto or Indiana. But others are adapting to perimeter play. The Bucks swished 25 threes in a preseason finale and even the lowly Pistons are launching far more. Regular season wins will surely come by the dozens. But the Celtics could be upset if they don’t overcome road laziness and poor shooting nights. I can’t help but think of the famous steamroller scene in Austin Powers with a guard unable to evade Austin’s snail-paced killer. The Celtics have a steamroller of a roster. But will more nimble teams be able to dance around it?
The NBA has long been the most predictable major sports league. And this facilitates awe and admiration of top teams, to a certain extent. So it’s suitable that Boston has burst into the top spot. But there is at least the potential for uncertainty. The biggest roadblock to the finals is certainly removed for the consensus favorite. But if Stevens and Irving can’t adapt to an evolving game the curtain may again come down on the league’s most prestigious franchise, making previous success seem like an oddity from another generation.