C's Believe They're Ready To Challenge Cavs in Playoffs
CLEVELAND – The Celtics and the Cavaliers wrapped up their season series Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena, where Cleveland grabbed a 120-103 win and clinched the series two games to one.
Those numbers might not say it, but this much clear: the reigning Eastern Conference champs will not overlook Boston should these two teams meet again during the postseason.
The belief among many NBA analysts is that the Celtics, with their wide-ranging skill and versatility, are the team in the East that would pose the greatest threat to Cleveland during a seven-game series. These teams’ most recent matchups give credence to such a belief despite the final score of Saturday’s game.
At this point, there is no question about whether or not the Celtics have the personnel to compete with Cleveland. They do.
“I just think we can play both ways; we can play big and we can play small,” Jared Sullinger said of the matchup, shortly after logging 17 points and 13 rebounds against the Cavs. “And that’s to our advantage.”
Boston played ‘big’ at the start of Saturday’s game, and that worked to its advantage. The C’s dominated the first quarter, leading by as many as 18 points while shooting 60.0 percent from the field and limiting Cleveland to only 40.0 percent shooting.
Boston, however, was unable to sustain that level of play throughout the remainder of the game. As Isaiah Thomas stated, “It turned around fast.”
Cleveland battled all the way back and evened things up at 53-53 with 1:54 left in the first half. The teams went back and forth during the third quarter before the Cavs swiftly pulled away at the start of the final period.
The last matchup between these two teams, on Feb. 5 and again at Quicken Loans Arena, unfolded differently but again showcased Boston’s ability to match up with Cleveland. The C’s grinded out a 104-103 win with their small-ball lineup, as Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas and Evan Turner each logged between 32 and 36 minutes that night. That foursome helped Boston control the pace of the game before Bradley hit a game-winning 3 at the buzzer.
Although Boston gave Cleveland a scare during each of the four games they played against each other last postseason, there was never a true belief that the C’s could upend the Cavs. These last two games, as well as Boston’s overall success this season, have changed that notion.
“From our standpoint, matching up from last year,” said Crowder, “I think we did a hell of a job of getting better.”
He later added, “We know how to beat them. We’ve just got to find a way to sustain it throughout the course of a game. But we have the right game plan.”
From Boston’s perspective, Cleveland is well aware of that fact as well. The Cavs have a different look in their eyes nowadays when they play the C’s.
“Just seeing how the they respect us now. The respect comes,” Crowder said. “It’s hard to tell you guys how do I know they respect you, but the style of play that we played, and when we got up, how we got up, we know how to beat them.”
And should a series arise that pits these two teams against each other during the postseason?
“If it does come,” Crowder said, “we’ll be prepared and ready.”
The Celtics know that. The Cavs know that.
We’ll be in for a heck of a ride if these teams meet again.