BOSTON — The Boston Celtics have done more than just take a 2-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
They’ve broken them.
And after two games its the ‘overachieving’ Celtics who look like they were built for this moment. While the heavily favored Cavaliers look like they would rather be anywhere else.
Jeff Van Gundy: "The #Cavaliers eye-roll each other more than a couple in a bad marriage."
— Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman) May 16, 2018
“We’re really embracing Celtics Basketball,” said Celtics big man Al Horford. “We’re playing hard, we’ve got each other’s backs and that’s it.”
What exactly ‘Celtics Basketball’ is could be a lot of things. I’m sure in Phoenix after a big win they celebrate playing ‘Suns Basketball too.’ Everyone thinks theres is a unique style and brand of play steeped in toughness, physicality and a never-say-die attitude. But in the Celtics case it’s actually true. And when Horford says ‘Celtics Basketball’ he’s basically talking about Marcus Smart.
Sure the rest of the team embodies much of what Smart brings to the table but his relentless ‘every down’ effort is truly next level. Especially in contrast to the Cavs lethargic almost slow motion response to his frenetic hard charging ways.
“He was born with his hands dirty,” Celtics teammate Jaylen Brown said. “I’m just happy he’s on our side. Today was a tremendous effort on one of the biggest stages we’ve all played on. I commend Smart for coming with that hard hat that he always has.”
“I think he’s as tough as they come, right? He’s a true competitor,” head coach Brad Stevens added. “He matches his intensity with a physical toughness.”
This is a purely Marcus Smart sequence pic.twitter.com/XfPj4Woi5a
— John Karalis 🇬🇷 (@RedsArmy_John) May 16, 2018
Tough is one word to describe the Celtics play. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue used another.
“They’re gooning the game up and we’ve got to do the same thing,” Lue said. “We’ve got to be tougher mentally and physically.”
“Gooning?” asked Marcus Morris. “That’s a good word. (Expletive), we’re doing what it takes. Whatever it takes, every player, 1-15, whatever it takes, that’s what we’re doing. You call it what you want to call it. We’re just trying to get the win.”
Odd that Lue used the word “goon to describe the Celtics when it was his guy, JR Smith who got down and dirty on Al Horford, intentionally shoving the Celtics big man in the back while he was going up for a basket in the second half. Horford hit the deck hard and when he looked up, guess who had come to his defense?
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) May 16, 2018
“That’s a dirty shot,” Smart said. “You just can’t allow that to keep happening. This is not the first time JR’s done some dirty stuff, especially playing against us. He’s known for it, especially playing against us. We know that. It’s like a bully. You keep letting a bully keep picking on you, he’s going to keep picking on you until you finally stand up, and that’s what I tried to do.”
“It’s already physical,” added Morris. “It’s been physical. Like I said, we’re not backing down. If they want to go about it, we can go. We gonna continue to come in and play hard, we’re gonna be smart and use our heads. Nobody is gonna get thrown out of the games or anything like that. We’re just gonna compete. Competitive level is going to go up. That’s about it.”
So now the series shifts back to Cleveland where the Cavs hope the home crowd can infuse some life into their listless play. But here’s a news flash, a change of venue isn’t adding any grit to the Cavs nor sapping the Celtics of their inherent team toughness.
After two games it has to be painfully clear to the Cavaliers that the Celtics will not back down. In the past LeBron James led teams relied on sheer talent, but this iteration of the Cavs may be lacking that as well.
So now what?