The Boston Celtics were obliterated on their home court in both Game 1 and Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Isaiah Thomas’ season ended during game two, leading to the wide belief that the any hope left for the Celtics was now gone.
The Cleveland Cavaliers returned home for Game 3 and were stunned by the Celtics. After a hot first half led by Kevin Love’s 7 three-pointers, the Celtics fought back from a 21 point deficit in the third quarter. Then, Avery Bradley stunned the basketball world.
Not long after, basketball twitter and sports media exploded with the idea that the Celtics are perhaps better without Isaiah Thomas. This is simply not true. Isaiah is the sole offense creator on this team and Boston would not be in this position without him.
Thomas was the one form of consistency on the offensive end of the floor all year. Without his play in the Quarterfinals and heroics in the Semifinals, the Celtics would not be in the Eastern Conference Finals. Thomas is the one player on the Celtics’ roster that they looked to when in need of a bucket.
The Celtics did not beat the Cavaliers because they are better without Thomas. They won because the Cavaliers are a terrible match-up for Thomas. A 5’9 scoring machine, Thomas ranked dead last in defensive efficiency among all qualifying NBA point guards this year.
It is impossible to beat the Cavaliers by out-scoring them. They have perfectly built their roster with shooters to surround LeBron James, making them arguably the best offense in the league. The only way to compete with this team is to play hard, physical, defensive minded basketball.
The Thomas-less Celtics were forced to play gritty style basketball. They started Marcus Smart, who embodies grit, and the rest of the roster followed his lead. The Cavaliers hit shots in the first half negating the affect of their play, but the defensive minded style payed dividends in the second half, as the Celtics allowed just 42 points.
Their offense with Thomas became too predictable. It was clear that Thomas’ teammates relied on him and his ability to create offense. There was little ball movement and Thomas could not get anything going due to the Cavaliers’ defensive focus on eliminating his production.
In Game 3, the rest of the Celtics roster woke up due to the fact that they had no one to rely on. What became evident is that Boston’s ball movement picked up, the offense became less predictable, and the play calls from Coach Brad Stevens were much more successful. Everyone got involved on offense and this made it much harder for Cleveland to plan against.
Some things just went the Celtics’ . Marcus Smart will not go 7-10 from three every game. LeBron James will certainly not be absent again like he was in Cleveland on Sunday night.
Without Thomas, they have a better shot in this series. They can go back to focusing in on the basics and defensive grit that defined has their team for the past two seasons. While all this may hold true, the Celtics are still a much better team when Isaiah Thomas is on the court.