The box score tells you most of what you need to know about a game, but sometimes you have to dig deeper to find the real difference makers.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving have been masterful for the Cavs thus far. If you’ve watched the games, you don’t need the box score to tell you that. If you’re rooting for the C’s, you probably want to close your eyes every time Kyrie lets a 3-pointer leave his finger tips. The only thing worse might be when LeBron gets a head of steam going towards the basket, where he knows nobody is going to stop him.
With that said, the Celtics are keeping this series competitive. Jared Sullinger said they don’t care about the moral victories of keeping games close after the 99-91 loss that put the Cavs up 2-0 in the series. Maybe you can find some ways that the losses help teach next year’s C’s, but this season isn’t over yet. As well as the Cavs have played, Boston is making them earn it. This series could easily be tied heading back to the TD Garden without the contributions Cleveland has gotten from Tristan Thompson.
Thompson didn’t take a shot in Game 2, but his damage was done on the offensive glass. Five of Thompson’s 11 rebounds were on the offensive end, and four of them led to nine second chance points for his team (the fifth led to an Irving missed 3-pointer). Thompson’s plus/minus was a minus-2, but the timing of his rebounds have been impeccable to the Cavs’ victories.
That includes Game 1 also, when Thompson’s four offensive boards all seem memorable as they helped get second chance points to stop Boston’s runs. Irving and James missing shots would obviously be huge for the Celtics to steal a game, but that’s not something they can control. What they can control is keeping Thompson off the glass. Those nine points made all the difference in Game 2.
The thing is, the Celts have an X-Factor of their own, but they seem afraid to use it. Brad Stevens is a fantastic coach — as LeBron acknowledged on the TNT post game interview — but there’s one thing he’s done (or hasn’t done) in this series that I can’t quite understand. Isaiah Thomas is averaging 22 points and 8.5 assists through the first two games, and has been crucial attacking the rim as Boston’s best penetrator at only 5-foot-9. The Cavs haven’t been able to stop him, but fortunately for them, they haven’t had to spend too much time trying. He’s only playing 30 minutes per game.
This is the playoffs! This is where you unleash your best players. LeBron and Kyrie are going 40-plus minutes for the Cavs. I have no problem with Thomas in the sixth man role, but Stevens just needs to go to him earlier. In Thomas’ 61 minutes in the series, the Celtics are a plus-2. They are beating the Cavs with Thomas on the floor!
Isaiah not only brings energy to the floor which his teammates feed off of, but he’s a scoring threat that Boston isn’t able to replicate with any other player/lineup during the 18 minutes Thomas has been on the bench each game.
When LeBron sits, Kyrie scores. When Kyrie sits, LeBron scores. Stevens doesn’t have that luxury — that’s why the C’s are such heavy underdogs. But you can at least try and do something about it. The easy solution is to play Thomas more, and that doesn’t mean you have to start him (although I would consider it at this point).
The Celtics have a big opportunity coming their way in Boston. With a rowdy home crowd now on their side for the next two games, Boston needs to remember two things if they want to give themselves a chance to get back in the series: Keep Thompson away from offensive rebounds, and let Isaiah Thomas carry the offense for 40 minutes.
The Cavs are still probably too good. But this has been the most competitive series in the east so far. It would be a shame if it turned out to be a sweep.
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