If you subscribe to the theory that the Cleveland Cavaliers were just playing out the regular season, waiting for the playoffs, what you saw last night was Exhibit A.
After a feeling out period in the first quarter, after which Boston held a one point lead, the Cavs dominated the Celtics the rest of the way, in route to a resounding 114-91 win.
Did we mention the blowout occurred in Boston?
The win should sew up the top seed in the Eastern Conference for Cleveland, which now holds a one game lead over Boston, and holds the tie-breaker by winning the season series against Brad Stevens’ team, three games to one.
Much has been made about the wine and gold’s play defensively after the All Star break, as the Cavs ranked 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency in that time span, but Tyronn Lue’s squad held the Celts to just 91 points for the game, and just 41% shooting for the contest.
And the wine and gold did some creative things defensively, blitzing the pick and roll on occasion, and trapping too, things they haven’t showed on defense since the calendar turned to 2017.
It was almost like the contest was a dress rehearsal for the playoffs, which start in about a week and a half.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston’s best player, got his, scoring 26 points, but the truth is the Celtics don’t have a good “wingman” for Thomas, as Jae Crowder was next with 13 points, and Al Horford, who must have nightmares about the Cavs, had 12.
Meanwhile, Cleveland had five players in double figures, led by the sport’s best player, LeBron James, who dominated the second quarter, had 36, and he was backed up by Kyrie Irving (19), Kevin Love (15 points, 16 rebounds), and JR Smith, who had 12 points.
Did we mention the Cavs played without their best interior defender, Tristan Thompson, who has a thumb problem?
Now, Lue can start resting his start players in earnest. With a back-to-back situation on the road on Sunday and Monday (Atlanta then Miami), we would expect James, Irving, and Love to sit in one of those games, and if Wednesday’s regular season finale is inconsequential, which is probably will be, the “Big Three” won’t play in that one either.
Assuming they miss the Monday game vs. the Heat, that would give the trio about a full week off before the post-season begins at Quicken Loans Arena.
We aren’t going overboard about the win last night. The fact is, it isn’t good enough to play with that kind of intensity for one night during the playoffs, it has to be done every night.
On the other hand, after the shaky month of March, it was good to see the Cavaliers approach a “big” regular season with a determined approach and the result was tremendous.
It shows the Cavs can still play like champions, they still have it in them.
Remember, this is a veteran team. Cleveland is much more experienced than either Golden State and/or San Antonio. Perhaps they know how to treat the dog days of the post All Star break schedule, saving energy for the playoff run.
We will find that out very, very soon.