BOSTON — Despite getting blown out at home in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals – the second straight lopsided loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the last month and a half – Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is staying upbeat about his team’s chances, even if others have already written them off.
“I’m very confident,” Thomas said after the Celtics’ off-day workout Thursday afternoon. “I believe in these guys. We’re not scared of Cleveland. They’re not the Monstars. They’re not on Space Jam. Like, they lace up their shoes just like us. They just happened to play better than us in Game 1 and we’ve just got to protect home court in Game 2 and get the win.”
The Celtics’ numerous problems don’t begin with how the shoes are being laced up. It’s the players doing the lacing.
While the circumstances surrounding Boston’s current deficit are much different and the mountain is steep, the Celtics have been in this position once already during the postseason. Dropping the first two games at home against the Chicago Bulls in Round One, the Celtics looked on the brink of an early exit before rallying to win four straight.
Boston looked shaky in the early games of Round Two against Washington before winning a hard-fought seven-game series, solidifying a matchup with LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
“We can’t panic,” Thomas said. “It’s only one game. It’s one game. They took care of business, and we’ve just got to take care of business Game 2.”
That will require coming up with some semblance of an answer for James, who put his imprint on the game early, attacking the basket with ferocity no matter which defender Celtics coach Brad Stevens put in front of him. Kevin Love played his best game of the postseason, scoring 32 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Boston couldn’t contain Tristan Thompson either. He tallied a postseason career-high 20 points to go with nine rebounds, including six on the offensive end.
It may only be one game, but the Cavaliers exposed all of the Celtics’ weaknesses, just as they did in early April. The postseason’s top-ranked offense looked to be toying with the Celtics at times, finishing with 117 points on 48 percent shooting and 35.5 percent from 3-point range.
Cleveland repeatedly plowed its way into the paint, earning a whopping 35 trips to the free-throw line. Given the myriad defensive issues in Game 1, it’s fair to wonder, what, if anything, will change on that end Friday night.
“We’ve just got to be more in tune as a group,” Thomas said. “We can’t leave anybody on islands. We’ve got to let those guys see five guys in help position. I think if we do that — the clips were showing that where we did that, we played good defense that possession, we got stops, but when we left guys on islands and by themselves and not talking and communicating, that’s when they went on their run and opened the game up.”
The Celtics will also have to figure out how to best combat Cleveland’s blitzing strategy against Thomas on defense. Even though Thomas was held below the 20-point mark for the sixth time this postseason, he doesn’t seem worried about offense, twice saying Boston was able to get any shot it wanted. Just couldn’t capitalize.
“There’s nothing to figure out,” Thomas said. “They play their traditional way. They definitely showed a few bodies that were aggressive on me, but that’s nothing I haven’t seen this whole year. I’ve seen it all. Like I said, it’s nothing like the Wizards were doing where they showed and had three guys on me, or like the Bulls were playing on top of me and trying to be very physical.
“They’re playing their traditional ways, but sometimes they do trap me a little bit, but there’s nothing that I needed to figure out. I’ve just got to be more aggressive, make plays, make shots, and go from there.”
The Celtics can’t afford to go back to Cleveland having dropped the first two games. While their series chances seem bleak, Thomas isn’t concerned. Going down without a fight isn’t in their DNA.
“We’re not just happy to be here,” Thomas said. “We want to win this series, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We want to let everybody in this world know that we’re for real, and we’re one of the top teams in the NBA, and with this series we’ve got to go out and show the world because like everybody knows, everybody is counting us out, and we’ve been there before, though, so it’s nothing new for us.”
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