The Boston Celtics lead the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, winning the first two games played on their home turf in TD Garden. The Cavaliers clearly struggled in the series opener. Taking a look at some of the basic stats, however, may have you questioning the outcome of Game 2. On Tuesday, Boston grabbed only one more rebound than Cleveland. Both teams shot 10-for-31 from beyond the arc. Cleveland actually shot with higher overall accuracy than Boston, at 46.3 percent from the field compared to Boston’s 43.5 percent. With LeBron James putting up 42 points and a triple-double, how did the Celtics still take Game 2?
Six ‘Cs’ Behind the 2-0 Boston Celtics Lead Over Cleveland Cavaliers
Without a superstar to lean on, the young team relies on every player contributing to the game. Game 1 of this series proved this to be an advantage, as James’ lack of a star-quality performance led to a large spread in the Celtics’ favor. Boston communicates in all aspects of the game and is selfless with the ball. Playing like this allows for high awareness of each other on the court, making it easier to find the open shot. The best example of this is Jayson Tatum‘s alley-oop from Marcus Smart in Game 5 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Smart didn’t even look at Tatum to make the final pass.
Boston has one of the best coaches in the NBA. Brad Stevens is a finalist for the NBA’s 2018 Coach of the Year award. Opposing players and coaches often comment on his elite coaching skills. His own team has nothing but praise for his sideline performance. With a coach of this caliber, having a young and inexperienced team becomes beneficial.
Smart spoke to reporters following Thursday’s practice last week about Stevens’ coaching ability.
“He’s a great coach,” Smart said. “He’s a crafty coach. Some of the plays he draws up, you go, ‘Ehhh, I don’t know if that’s going to work.’ Then it does, and it’s like, ‘Sorry I ever doubted you.'”
These players listen to and respect Stevens, follow his instructions, and take responsibility on and off the court.
Tuesday night’s game showed that the team members support each other. Smart instantly stepped up to defend Al Horford after J.R. Smith’s dirty play. The way these players speak about each other in interviews and press conferences shares the same theme.
In a press conference following Game 2 on Tuesday, Horford commented, “I think we just have a group of guys that really believe in each other. Our group, in tough times, we’ve always found a way.”
Along with teammate support, the Celtics have an immense amount of fan support. Win or lose, the crowd will be there, cheering loudly in support of their beloved basketball team. This crowd gives a whole new meaning to “homecourt advantage.” When the Celtics are trailing, or need a boost to get their heads back in the game, they know their home crowd is that energy boost they need. The team even occasionally credits the fans as being their driving force.
Watch any interview with a Celtics player discussing the way they’ve played against Cleveland, and the terms “confidence,” “fearlessness,” or “poise” surface nearly every time. With the incredible amount of support the players receive from the coach, the teammates, and the crowd, it’s no wonder every last one of them is dripping with confidence.
Teammate Marcus Smart is a first-hand witness to much of Brown’s trash talk and says that it seems to have a profound impact on the recipients.
“It’s just things just from [saying], ‘You can’t guard me,’ to the flexes, the poses, to calling people ‘little one’ when he posts them up and things like that. When a guy is doing that and he backs it up, it kind of gets into your head like, ‘You know what, I don’t really know if I can guard this guy.’”
“That’s a mental thing, a part of the game that a lot of good players understand,” continued Smart.
The Celtics are all in, all the time. Their energy and intensity shine through not only when they’re winning, but also when they’re losing. This was true when leading Cleveland by 29 points in the first quarter. Cleveland responded by playing as if they had lost all hope for ever recovering. It was also true when the Celtics found themselves in a 22-point deficit to the Philadelphia 76ers, and it helped them to battle back to win the game. Just how intense is Boston’s will to win? Marcus Morris’ reaction after making a layup over Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson says it all.
Game 3 may be in Cleveland’s home territory, but the Celtics have momentum and something to prove. These six elements will all follow them to Cleveland, with the exception of the crowd support. Boston’s players have experienced tough crowds before, though. They got a Game 3 win in Philadelphia, so the Celtics will surely look to do the same thing tonight in Cleveland.
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