Thursday, May 25 – Cavaliers at Celtics
Pregame – Celtics Adjusting Well Without IT
BOSTON – When news broke Saturday that Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas would be shut down for the remainder of the postseason because of a hip injury, most NBA pundits expected the Cleveland Cavaliers to sweep Boston out of the Eastern Conference Finals with ease. Instead, the C’s have put up the fight of their lives and remain very much alive as they head into Game 5 Thursday night at TD Garden.
Thomas was officially shut down after Boston’s 44-point blowout defeat in Game 2, which put the C’s in a 2-0 series hole. They responded stunningly, however, with a 111-108 Game 3 win in Cleveland, and then opened up Game 4 with a 16-point lead, before Kyrie Irving took over during the second half and carried the Cavs to 112-99 win and a 3-1 series lead.
Boston’s improved play during Games 3 and 4 baffled many outside of the organization, but no one inside the Celtics locker room is surprised by their recent efforts against the defending NBA champs. That’s because the team has dealt with adversity all throughout the 2016-17 season, so it was ready for any challenge thrown its way – even one of such magnitude.
“Obviously we played a lot of minutes throughout the course of the year without [Thomas] on the floor, so these are not things that are complete overhauls,” Stevens said Thursday night ahead of the 8:30 p.m. tip-off. “There are just things that you really have to emphasize, like playing through the post more, you have to emphasize playing through our bigs in the seams more, you have to emphasize more cutting and movement in pick-and-roll.”
While Thomas’ absence has not created a complete overhaul, like Stevens said, it’s still been enough to throw the Cavaliers for a loop over the last two matchups. Head coach Tyronn Lue indicated that he’s still scratching his chin at how to defend Boston as his Cavs enter Game 5.
“The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s (offense) for me, as far as the actions and all the running around and all the guys who are making all the plays, so it’s a totally different thing,” Lue told a group of Cleveland reporters Wednesday after taking a 3-1 series lead. “Brad’s got them moving and cutting and playing with pace and everybody is a threat.”
Without Thomas, the Celtics have had to call on multiple players to step up, and virtually every player, from Marcus Smart to Jonas Jerebko, has done so admirably. It’s created an unpredictable offensive system, which has complicated things for Cleveland’s defense.
By no means does this mean the Celtics are better without Thomas; obviously losing a player who averages close to 30 points per game is not beneficial in the long run. Over the last two games, however, his absence has thrown Cleveland for a loop. It will continue to search for answers tonight, as it looks to close out its series with the Celtics.
– Taylor C. Snow