No group of humans have ever been less scared of anything than the Boston Celtics are of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite the fact that Cleveland has LeBron James, and despite the fact that Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are hurt, Boston improbably has a 2-0 series lead on the Cavs after a 107-94 win in Game 4.
Maybe the Celtics are just too young to get shook or something, but man, this looks like a basketball team that is playing like a group that knows it has nothing to lose. Here’s proof: LeBron James had 42 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. Kevin Love pitched in 22 points and 15 rebounds. It is very hard to beat the Cavaliers when James plays like the best player on earth (especially during a first quarter that made it look like he was going to go off) and Love plays like an All-Star.
It didn’t matter. Nothing matters with this Celtics squad. They want to fight, they want to scrap, and they are willing to respond to any punch from an opponent with an even stronger punch.
Six Celtics players reached double-digit scoring in Game 2: Jaylen Brown had 23, Terry Rozier had 18, Al Horford had 15, Marcus Morris had 12, and Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart had 11. It’s just the Celtics in a microcosm, as they want to come at opponents and attack you with a myriad of players, which is what they need to do with Hayward and Irving on the sideline.
Whether it was because the Cavaliers made errors or the Celtics just made plays, Boston seemed to do what it needed to do at every juncture. They dug deep to do stuff like this — watch how gimpy Smart is as he forces a turnover to set up an easy basket for Morris.
Here’s another. Rozier turned on the jets to avoid getting a dunk attempt pinned by James, which is something LeBron has done approximately a million times over the course of his NBA career. But Rozier, to steal a track term, exploded out of the gates and was able to make a play.
That dunk happened during a unique point in the game, as that was one of the moments that made it clear that this just might be Boston’s night, even as James and Love went off. The Cavaliers had a nine-point lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. Then these things happened.
The Celtics just turned it on and fought on every single possession. No one epitomized this Smart, who has made a career on being (for lack of a better phrase) a gigantic pain in the neck and is so good in that role. Watch how he wanted the ball more than anyone else on the floor, especially if their jerseys said “CLEVELAND” across the front in big letters.
The good news is the series is shifting back to Cleveland, and on the surface, all the Celtics did was defend their home court. Digging deeper, something far more troubling is happening — the Cavaliers look terrible at times for reasons of their own volition, whether it’s due to a lack of execution or a lack of desire. Role players just aren’t getting it done, as evidenced by the eight points in 66 combined minutes from J.R. Smith, Jeff Green, and Rodney Hood on Tuesday.
Beating LeBron James in Cleveland is really hard, so even though the Celtics have been the better team thus far, no one would be stunned if this heads back to Boston for Game 5 tied at two games a piece. Until then, the fearless young Celtics find themselves in unfamiliar territory, as they’re only two wins away from making the NBA Finals.