There are very few things that could make me believe the Celtics have even the slightest prayer against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals which start on Wednesday.
Don’t get me wrong. This team is good. They finished the 2016-17 season at 53-29. That was good enough for first place and the number one playoff seed in the East. They have a strong post game led by the powerful and stable Al Horford who is in his first year with Boston and the versatile Kelly Olynyk who is a pillar they have built this team around. Then there is Avery Bradley who is the one player left over from those dominant Celtics teams from five plus years ago who has stepped up when needed in this year’s playoffs. It is no secret that even with all the solid pieces this team has in place, all of their hopes and dreams ride on the 5’9″, 185 pound shoulders of miniature point guard Isaiah Thomas.
He might struggle on defense when he gets tangled up with a seven footer in the paint but that doesn’t stop Thomas from fighting for position and trying to get the stop. He’s special, this kid. He plays with a ton of heart and a little bit of magic. He makes sick passes that leave defenders looking flat footed and confused, and can sink a three at the most crucial time to turn the tide in the big game but it’s that little step back jumper with a monster defender in his face that lets you know this kid is not going to be denied.
…you could see in his eyes that he just didn’t have what it would take to will this team to victory.
This team seemed to be headed to the playoffs on auto-pilot with only LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the way of a Finals showdown with the Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry. Then, as it loves to do, life set a moving screen on Thomas and the Celts. Chyna Thomas, Isaiah’s younger sister, “fell asleep at the wheel” a day before Boston was set to start their opening round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls. The one car accident took her life and seemed to drain any strength from the young guard as he tried to process the untimely events.
People had to wonder how the tiny All-Star would respond. Just like the little warrior that he has proven to be, Thomas led his team out of the tunnel in game one and dropped 33 points on the Bulls with a heavy heart. However, even though the fight was still there, the magic was gone and you could see in his eyes that he just didn’t have what it would take to will this team to victory. He looked empty and drained like anyone probably would after learning their sibling and most importantly, friend, was gone for good and even though he wore an equally heartbreaking and heartwarming tribute on his shoes, the normal pep was missing from each step.
It almost felt like his teammates who all handled the tragedy with utmost class and respect had resigned themselves to a “Let’s get em next year mentality.” Obviously they wanted nothing more than to win one for their teammate but you could tell they had no intention at all of making him exert that type of effort. Game 2 went to the Bulls as well and I think most of America was resigned to the fact that the Celtics had packed it in and would gladly take a mulligan next season.
Game 3 was a straight up massacre as Boston finally started to roll and Chicago had no response in a 104-87 beat down. It’s easy to blame the collapse on the Rondo injury but in reality as you look back you see that the monster inside the little fella was starting to awaken.
It’s a jungle out there and even though sometimes he looks like a tiny mouse in a mighty forest, there is no quit in this kid. He’s calm and classy but don’t fool yourself he can be cocky too and it looks like we might be about to get a full force dose of attitude from the guys in green as they attempt to make a statement for their leader. What’s funny is, the big guys in the league don’t have an answer for him, they can’t stop him in the paint and sometimes it looks like they don’t even try.
This is now a family and all of its members are looking out for the wounded brother.
This current Boston squad doesn’t have the mystique that the Cavaliers have, they don’t have the names or depth on their roster and they don’t have King James but what they do have is a mission. They aren’t being brash about it though, they are handling it the way a winning team does. By not giving the other team bulletin board material and just handling there business on the court. They didn’t dominate the series against Washington. As a matter of fact, in the third quarter of game 7, when the score was tied at 76 it looked like that particular match and the series could go either way. Then in a matter of minutes, Thomas’ crew stepped up and finished the game in a hurry and when they had it in the bag, took a step back and cruised to victory. Just like that, the whole series was decided on a couple of crucial clutch plays and the Wiz were sent packing. Who would have thought that the performance of a life time would come from a big goofy white guy who seems to be taking Thomas under his wing. Kelly Olynyk, the big man off the bench was on fire for the majority of the game.
Anyone who understands tragedy knows that this is no longer a team. This is now a family and all of its members are looking out for their wounded brother. Talent doesn’t matter anymore. Legend and legacy have to be set aside for a moment. Shots, dribbles and passes are fine and dandy but what’s about to be showcased in the next week or so has only to do with the heart. I’m not guaranteeing victory for the Celtics. Not even I am that foolish. But I have a feeling that we are about to witness something spectacular. One of those performances like Michael Jordan with the flu in the Finals or Brett Favre on Monday Night after his Father died.
“I don’t think there’s any question people around here have a great affinity for Isaiah,” Head Coach Brad Stevens said. “We can already feel that. I think it’s going to be really emotional, and that’s what makes this place really special. I think they really appreciate Isaiah and I know Isaiah really appreciates them.”
The Celtics have earned home field advantage for their showdown with James and the Cavaliers at the TD Garden and you don’t have to search very hard to figure out that Isaiah Thomas is Emporer of the Garden. You know the fans are going to be in a frenzy from the first tip and every move “his majesty” makes is going to push them further towards their peak.
This series has a classic David vs Goliath feel to it. Most fans have already given the series to Cleveland. Some are calling for a sweep and a few of the more cerebral fans are allowing Boston a game based on the “Dead Sister Factor.” This David has plenty of faith and heart and he isn’t coming alone. He’s got a tribe of brothers who are out for blood and are determined to carry him to the other side of this tragedy.