Well here we go, the Eastern Conference Finals are here and the Celtics are just one round(or four wins) away from doing the unthinkable- making it to the NBA Finals, first time since 2010 or winning the Finals, first time since 2008. The Celtics barely got past the Wizards in a seven game thriller and it seemed like the endless series. Now the C's are faced with an even bigger challenge in front of them- competing with arguably the best team in the league, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs have beat the C's three of the four times they met in the regular season and three of those games were decided on six points or less. Although the Celtics being the huge underdog, they are going to give Cleveland huge challenge and will not go down without a fight. They have nothing to lose and everything to prove. Thomas put it best this week, talking about his team advancing after game seven: "They didn't give us a chance. They didn't give us a chance when we were down 2-0 to Chicago. They don't ever give us a chance, and we just keep going; we don't care about what others say." So how are they going to give themselves a chance to keep going? Here are some keys on how this could be accomplished.
- Rest vs momentum: The Cavaliers have yet to lose in the playoffs this year and haven't played since May 7th. The Celtics are coming off of a physical series that took everything out of them on Monday and only have a day to rest and prepare. But there is a pattern in all professional sports- the rested team comes off slow, while the team working off of only momentum comes up big. Of course that isn't always the case, anything can happen, but being a huge underdog, coming off of the Monday night high, the lottery pick excitement(has nothing to do with the game but still gets the franchise hyped) and playing at the Garden first could easily give the C's that early edge. The biggest thing here is if the Cavs show up slow, the C's have to take advantage because the Cavs will warm up quick.
- Giving up/small losses: This is not a series that will have 'oh wells' or 'whatever, we'll bounce back next time' losses. The C's have been challenged but the Bulls and Wizards are no Cavs. Round one should've been won in five, there was no need for that close game one and round two should've been won in six. These games where the C's lighten up at the end and end up losing or losing on buzzer beaters cannot happen in the ECF. Neither can giving up. In the game two loss first round to the Bulls, Marcus Smart admitted to the team giving up, saying they stopped trying in the fourth even though the deficit was manageable. Even though the C's can win the series, they cannot think "oh, we'll stop now and try again next time." They have to finish big and start off slow(if they must) and play every single second on that game clock.
- Bench points: Isaiah Thomas may be the Celtics superstar but he cannot be the hero every game. He cannot always be relied on when things are going downhill. And the game will not be decide on how big of a game one player has, it will be determined on if the bench shows up or not. Kelly Olynyk is the proof. Thomas led the team in scoring in game seven against the Wizards but what won them the game(and series) was Olynyk's 26 point performance from off the bench. The C's bench outscored the Wizards bench 48-5. Wizards center Marcin Gortat even pointed that out after game seven, saying “It can’t happen. It can’t happen. Their bench was really good. They outplayed us. Outplayed our starters and our second unit. You can’t win games if you’re going to let them do things like that.” The bench has to come out and play.
Prediction: The boldest prediction I have ever made. The Celtics will win the East in seven games, winning all the home ones, and will play the Warriors in the NBA Finals.