I think we can say we are officially back. For now. Time for one of our favorite past-times: Friday Fives. Here’s how this worked. I, Maneikis, posed 5 questions to our panel (Me, Will Weir aka “The Fedora’d One” and Taylor “I now prefer TJ” Simpson), and what you will read is our email exchange regarding each of these key questions heading into the critical Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Fun drinking game alert: every time we refer to Lebron by a name other than Lebron or anytime you feel we are being complete homers, you drink. Prepare to get dnruk.
- How do we stop Tristan Thompson?
Will: Tristan has been bashing us over the head with a mallet like a kid playing Whack-A-Mole in an arcade for about 2 or 3 years now. Feels like every game he gets about 20 rebounds vs. us and we are just powerless. Having said that, they need to try something. Rebounding has been a sore spot for C’s all year, not a secret. Amir Johnson? Child Please. Tyler Zeller? I’ll pass. Traditional big men are out. Unfortunately, we can’t have Al guard both him and Kevin Love, so I think the answer has to fall to primarily Marcus Smart and maybe even a dash of Jae Crowder. At this point, the best hope is that these 2 can be bulldogs and, at best, slow him down. Marcus seems like he’ll get 1st billing, Jae doesn’t have the speed to stay with LBJ (Step up on up Jaylen!), but maybe he has the strength to battle with Tristan like he did with Morris last round.
Maneikis: Will, I totally agree per our conversation last night. Marcus can bang with the big guys as long as it’s purely physical play. The moment you add skill to the mix, Marcus tends to struggle, but he relishes the wrestling matches. I’d also like to see us try to exploit him on the defensive end by going small and giving Marcus an opportunity to run PnR with Horford. That might force the Cavs into some unnatural defensive rotations (have Thompson and Love ever had to defend a PnR together?), and we might even get some of their bigs in foul trouble. I don’t see us stopping Thompson from getting rebounds, but I do expect us to make him work for those rebounds and to make him uncomfortable on the defensive end of the floor.
TJ: Tristan is a player who has the specific skill set that exploits the biggest weakness on the Celtics’ roster – offensive rebounding. It would be like if in The Illiad the Trojans hired a mercenary to a $60 million dollar contract whose lone skill was throwing arrows at soldiers’ heels. In the first round against the Bulls the Celtics made Robin Lopez look like Wilt Chamberlain, so an honest goal would just not to end up like any of Wilt’s famed 20,000 women – you know, completely fucked. However as many basketball coaches have repeated to me throughout the years, there is no secret to boxing out; it just takes placement, intention and a whole lot of effort. Dedicate a spot on the floor to one of the Lunks (Kelly, Zeller, Amir) who sole purpose is to stay between the basket and Tristan Thompson. Barring a sudden fix for what has been a glaring flaw all year, sign his step-sister Kendall to a 10-day. She fixed institutionalized racism with a mere soft drink, so I’m sure she can grab a few rebounds.
- How much of the Game 1 outcome was a “rested team versus a tired team?”
TJ: Short answer- it turned the game into a blowout pretty much off the rip. Celtics have to be firing on all cylinders while making minimal mistakes while maybe getting a little lucky to even compete. So when the Cavs came out with their offense humming and kept their foot on the gas pedal, it forced the Celtics to have to play catch-up, and with limited energy, a run never materialized to ever really even give the game the appearance of a real contest. When the home team finally cuts the lead down to 18 points going into the 4th, and THEN I text a friend “THERE’S LIFE,” and I wasn’t just listening to the new Drake on Spotify, you know the outcome of Game 1 was never really in doubt after the First Quarter.
Will: Minimal. I’m sure it played a small part, but, if anything, I was expecting the opposite. Celtics were riding the wave of emotion from Game 7, winning the lottery, and Game 1 with a chance to make a statement. Last night looked like the last regular season game between these 2 had never ended and it was straight dominance by the Cavs. When LeBron is locked in like this, it’s game over for a team of over-achievers like the Celtics who work hard and play well together. Yes, the Celts may have been tired, but I don’t think it factored into the game enough that it had any impact on the outcome.
Maneikis: I actually disagree Will. I think this is maybe more of a factor than we realize. Boston had to push themselves to the emotional and physical limit in their (epic?) 7 game series with the Wizards, so I think it’s more of them being tired than the Cavs being rested, though the Cavs did have enough time for Lebron to fly to Germany, ride a banana boat with his buddies, slide into a few Instagram models’ DMs, and still have time to re-watch The Godfather Trilogy before even thinking about basketball. Celtics clearly did not have fresh legs, especially Isaiah who usually is one of the fastest guys on the court but flashed average foot speed in Game 1, and I think we will be a bit fresher in Game 2.
- What adjustments should the Celtics make to slow down Lebron?
TJ: Short of getting Yabusele time-traveling in from 3 years from now when he has developed into the French Draymond, the best option is likely just to throw Jaylen Brown at him and don’t look back. First move would be to replace the at-this-point-defenseless-that-he’s-still-starting Amir Johnson (what is his value? A friend literally texted me that and the only answer I could come up with is “He’s a big body”. Time to move on, Brad) and just tell Jaylen to channel all his 20-year-old energy into staying in front of The King. The rookie has shown he can consistently give 100% of his elite level athleticism with flashes of an understanding of the game that once caused me to give him a career ceiling as a Poor Man’s Kawhi. That will likely involve having to live with a couple versions of the *FacePalm Emoji* plays and limited offense in an attempt to contain The Chosen One, but last time I checked, no one has been able to stop LeBron but LeBron (and JJ BArea) since about 2007. Last resort, sick Marcus on him like the rabid dog that he is and hope he can frustrate him into doing something stupid like kicking someone in the crotch and getting suspended during a playoff series.
Will: A steady diet of prayer, gathering all birthday wishes in the Boston area, breaking as many wishbones as possible, and finding as many shooting stars in the sky to wish upon are a good start. I’m not sure there is an answer on this roster…..yet. Whether Brad likes it or not, Jaylen has to play around 30 minutes and be the primary defender. Despite LBJ having found a jumper this post season, which is just bullshit, it’s still the only chance a team has to beat him – by making him repeatedly try and beat them from the outside. Also, they could try to……you know what, I just wrote about 3 or 4 other sentences trying to come up with some type of plan, but against a legend like this with a team setup perfect for his skill set, I’m just out of ideas. This guy is good.
Maneikis: What Lebron did to us in Game 1 was actually scary. Like I was worried he might seriously injure someone. When he attacks the rim like that, you can feel his gravity and power through the freaking screen, so I can’t even imagine what it looks like in person these days. He somehow looks more athletic at 32 than he did at 27. I was texting with Smith (our old HS Coach for the readers) and he suggested we go zone, which I think could be an interesting wrinkle. Obviously that allows their shooters a bit more space, but I’d rather those shooters beat me than Lebron handpicking every switch he wants and demoralizing our very proud team until we lose all momentum going into the offseason. I totally agree Jaylen should be the primary defender though. He is the one guy with the raw tools to hang with him and like I said in my last post, Lebron has yet to figure him out. He’s like the new dog at the dog park that looks tough (metal chain, high haunches. ripped shoulders), so even the other alpha dogs eye him warily before attacking. In this series we will see if Jaylen has any bite.
- How much different would Game 1 have looked if the Celtics were hitting 3s?
TJ: Second biggest problem of this Celtics season, right behind rebounding, was consistent scoring if Isaiah was off his game/neutralized by opposing teams. When the Little Guy wasn’t scoring, losses to the Embiid-less Sixers happened, and when he was in the zone, Celtics beat the Warriors in Oracle. Very frequently the machinations and forces of Professional Basketball are too complicated to boil down to three bullet points, but I can confidently say that If Isaiah is taken out of the game, no one steps up to create offense, and threes are not falling, then THIS CELTICS TEAM WILL LOSE. A 31% 3 point percentage in and of itself does not guarantee a Game 1 loss, but couple that with a cold night from Isaiah and there is a Lavar Ball’s Chance of Not-Having-His-Words-Twisted-in- Hot-Take-Media Hell of the Celtics winning
Will: I won’t say they would have won, but a lot of those 3’s in the 1st quarter were certainly what one would consider to be an open NBA shot. Get off to a better start and maybe we could have had a game worth watching past mid-way through the 2nd. 3’s will for sure be a HUUUGE part of any Celtics win and will be BIGLY important to their success. As TJS mentioned, that will also help negate the rebounding advantage. Having said that, LeBron barely broke a sweat and the lead was spent hovering between 20 – almost 30 points throughout the game, so the Cavs victory was inevitable. Moving forward, if Boston wants to steal a game or 2, making it rain from 3 like James Harden after a playoff loss is an absolute must.
Maneikis: Well TJ, unfortunately I’m not sure if Olynyk will be able to stay on the floor in this series. Judging from Game 1, he’s going to be exploited, but that could mean Jerebko could see some minutes (though that prospect doesn’t exactly have me as excited as James Harden at a…damn you Will). I honestly think Olynyk and Horford thought they were quick enough to stay with Bronnie, so they played far too close to him for my liking. I felt like I was watching Brandon Bass circa 2012 all over again. If they get that switch, then we have to double team him or dare him to shoot. Like we should make it painfully obvious we want him to shoot. And if he attacks, well at least someone is standing there by the rim. You guys covered my points about the 3s. We have to keep taking them because our best hope is to increase variability in the outcome (God, I sound like Zach Lowe) by chucking from long range.
- So, who wins Game 2?
TJ: Losing the first two games of a series to the Bulls is one thing, losing two at home to the team that has a player for everything on the roster and going back to their land is the first step towards Broom-town. Look for the Garden crowd to fully acknowledge the stakes and to play the much needed role of 6th man. A few savvy adjustments by Brad to tighten up the rotations and watching water return to its level for both teams’ shooting percentages, the backs-against-the-wall Celts win a tight one thanks to a reinvigorated Horford and Isaiah hero ball.
Will: This is a tough one. My heart says Celts because I still believe somehow someway they pull off one game in this series. However, all information I have in front of me points to the Cavs heading back to the Land up 2-0. But, if the Celts are to get one, I think it would be tomorrow at home and they hit double digit 3 pointers. I don’t feel good about it, but Jaylen plays his best game of the year, slows LBJ down to a pedestrian 28,11, and 7 line while Love goes cold from 3 and Jae continues his hot streak he had during the 4th Q in game 1. Celts escape with a narrow victory 113 – 108.
Maneikis: I say Celtics hang on. I think we’ll hit them with a heavy blow early on and have to fend off a furious Cavs rally. Call me crazy, but I believe in this team and I think we can beat this Cavs team. Not 4 times, but tomorrow night? I think the Garden will be rocking, Isaiah will be talking, and the Celtics will be walking out of the building with their heads held high.