The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Surprising and magic season for Cs


 The most surprising basketball season in Boston since 1956 is still going on as I write this the morning before Game 6 vs. Cleveland thanks to a Memorial Day weekend-induced early deadline. We all know the story about their Martin Luther King-esque “we shall overcome” season where expectations were first dashed, then completely crushed by injuries to Gordon Hayward in Game 1 and Kyrie Irving just before the playoffs began, the latter coming after they had totally stabilized the ship after the Hayward injury to bring back high expectations for a big post-season. But admirably they kept fighting on. 

I did think they’d overcome the Hayward injury, but lowered expectations to 48 wins and two post-season series wins. They exceeded that, winning 55 and at least two series amid a litany of teamwide injuries. My mistake was underestimating the accelerated growth of Jaylon Brown and Jayson Tatum. I knew they’d eventually be very good, but not this good this fast. But I did know that in April, which is why, unlike the national punditry who vastly underrated the overall talent remaining, I had them beating Milwaukee and Philly without Irving. However, while I knew they’d fight it out, I figured they would not beat LeBron and company in Round III. Still do/did, even with after a 3-2 lead because of how jittery they’ve played on the road and until he proves otherwise I can’t bet against LeBron James in a winner-take-all Game 7 no matter where it’s played.   
The good news is they’ve been defying the odds all year, so who knows, maybe they’ll be the visiting team when the playoffs open out west tonight. Here are a few thoughts on that and things that have been made obvious to me in the playoffs. 
Brad Stevens: I finally found something I really, really, really don’t like about how young Brad does things. That would be leaving guys in with three fouls during the first half, and when they get an early fourth or even fifth one in the third period. It has not come back to bite him yet, but it will. Beyond that, he’s been as good as advertised, with the best adjustment being his response to getting sliced and diced by LeBron on Game 4 switches that left him to simply overpower Terry Rozier. In Game 5, they still switched, but then had a weakside big man run at him for another switch with Rozier rotating out to the weak side. It seemed to play a role in tiring the big fella out, which is really the only way to stop him short of triple teams that leave three-point shooters wide open. 
The Kyrie Factor: Since he went down I’ve been writing that for a complicated set of reasons Kyrie Irving may be the odd man out as the Celtics go forward. But it’s now plainly evident the one thing this Celtics group does not have is a guy who can put them on his back to score when everyone else is struggling. At different stages, several have admirably done that individually, but no one’s done it consistently. The difference between very good/dangerous teams and a great one is having a scorer like Bird, Jordan, Havlicek, LeBron, Kobe, Durant or Kareem who can be counted on to score when the building is burning down. That’s what Kyrie is, where I think he could have been the difference in losses to Milwaukee in Game 4 and 6, Game 4 in Philly and Game 4 in Cleveland. 
Love the Seven-Game Series: It’s a to-each-his-own world, but living through the ups and downs of a long series is a far more engaging fan experience to me than the lose-and-it’s-over NCAA tournament format. Against the Bucks it was a 10-day emotional rollercoaster of first thinking the Cs had them after going up 2-0, before that was turned upside down by getting smoked twice on the road. That whittled it to a best of three, and finally a winner-take-all Game 7. You don’t get in the tournament. Then came different challenges and coaching adjustments in Round 2 vs. Philly, before another set in dealing with LeBron in Round 3. In Round 4, it’s how to slow down the high-scoring Houston or Golden State offenses and how to attack their weaker defense teams. Finally, the NBA playoffs have a far superior level of play and the x-factor of how raucous home crowd environments factor into the games and add to the viewing experience. Not all the games are hand-wringers, but for me the NBA playoffs are a one-punch knockout over the NCAA Tournament.  
The Iso Game: First came the three-point shooting takeover and now comes the onslaught of the one-on-one isolation game, which we’ll see a lot in the finals. I’m not saying it isn’t an effective strategy. But, cue the Eck – “yuck!” – it’s awful watching eight other guys just standing with nothing to do but check their stock portfolios. It’s like watching the Home Run Derby during a real game. Worst of all, it’s spread to now infect Kevin Durant, who did it almost as much as James Harden in the Houston-Golden State series. Unstoppable – sometimes. Interesting to watch – no. 
The LeBron Haters: Yes, not quite Michael Jordan, but what’s not to like besides a little drama here and there? He’s a team first guy who plays hard every game, accepts the mantle of leadership that comes with greatness and delivers with awesome regularity. People here don’t like the Tom Brady haters, but he and LeBron are the same guy. They beat the detractor’s team and that’s frustrating. So they exaggerate or manufacture reality to say he’s a bad guy. I say, admire it while you can, because from George Mikan to Bill Russell to Jordan to LeBron and a few others in between, history shows true greatness comes along once a generation.
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