WALTHAM, Mass. — It’s not hyperbole to say that if the Boston Celtics somehow can find a way to boot the Cleveland Cavaliers out of this year’s playoffs, it would be one of the biggest upsets in NBA history.
The chasm in talent between the LeBron James-led, Big Three-bolstered Cavaliers and the role player-laden, superstar-less Celtics is huge. Immense, really.
Boston might not have a single player who would start on team contending for an NBA championship, which Cleveland most certainly is this season. Even though it took James two seasons to win a title in Miami, anything short of a Finals appearance for the Cavs would be a massive failure.
Needless to say, most experts aren’t giving the C’s much of a chance. Guard Evan Turner pointed out Friday that ESPN analyst Jalen Rose pegged Boston as the team most likely to be swept in the first round.
“I mean, it’s whatever,” Turner said, dismissing the ex-NBAer’s prediction. “It’s going to be all fun.”
If the Celtics do end up stealing even a game or two in this series, though, it’ll be because they didn’t allow the stage to disrupt their mindset. Boston has been at its best this season when it’s been the more physical, aggressive team, and that’s exactly what the C’s will have to be against James and the Cavs.
“I think in general,” Turner said, “any time we’ve played against a team and we’ve brought our physicality and set the tone, I think it always led to success, regardless of who’s on the court. And another thing, I think we’re deep. I think we have a lot of great depth, and we’re able to use that. As opposed to worrying about knockout punches, we’re just throwing body blows.”
The Celtics’ depth has been one of their greatest strengths this season. The skill gap between their best player and their 10th-best player is minimal, allowing their bench to thrive, particularly against opposing second units.
Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko — Boston is a lottery team without the contributions of these reserves.
“The beautiful part about us is that we don’t have a star player,” forward Jared Sullinger said. “We just have a ton of guys that come out and play hard. The talent level and the energy level doesn’t drop. It stays the same throughout the whole game, for a full 48 minutes.
“… We’ve got Kelly that can shoot the ball. We’ve got Jonas that can shoot the ball. We’ve got Isaiah that’s making plays for everybody. Sometimes, (point guard Marcus Smart) is playing with the second unit. It’s so many dynamic basketball players in that second unit that helps us be the best team that we can be.”
For the Celtics, this series will hinge on assertiveness. If they wait for the Cavs to throw the first metaphorical punch or let James waltz into the lane unchecked in the first quarter, a tidy, four-game sweep is a very real possibility.
But a motivated, physical C’s squad, one that harasses James and Kyrie Irving from the jump and features the type of second-unit play that has been a hallmark of Boston’s late-season surge? Well, those guys just might have a shot at scaring their heavily favored foes.
“I think we’ll be OK as long as we set the tone,” Turner said. “If we don’t come physical and we don’t come ready to compete, it’ll be a massacre. But I think if we come trying to be assertive and aggressive, we’ll be all right.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images
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