Celtics Blog 2017-

Game Three.

Toughness: Part I.

By Tom Mahoney

This win was actually predictable (in a hindsight kind-ah way;). You see it all the time. The Superstar goes down with injury, and the rest of the starters would step up and miraculously win the game. It is one of the strangest phenomena in the NBA. In the beautiful brightness of hindsight, once Isaiah went down, their was this one strange path to victory.

I'm not full of crap enough to claim I predicted it. "We didn't continue to press the tempo," LaBron said. "Marcus Smart started to hit a lot of threes. They started to get momentum, and that's what happens [when] you give a team a life. They played so freely without IT. And they just made play after play after play. And we couldn't weather the storm." But it started to make sense to me in the 4th.

Especially when I saw Marcus Smart had 25-points, mostly off 3-pointers (somewhere in the 4th, I can't remember were;). "[Marcus was] purposeful all night," Stevens said. "He's competitive, spirited, but played with good poise. He was tremendous, and I thought our other starters played really, really hard. I thought Avery didn't have a great shooting night, but he played as hard as he could on the other end of the floor. Jae Crowder guarding LeBron is a handful. And then Al had his moments, especially in the 4th quarter. He made big plays for us. I just thought Jerebko was huge." Which has been the weakness of his game.

But he took over the Isaiah scoring point guard role, and ran the team. "But Marcus just kind of led us," Stevens said. "One of the things about Marcus is he's going to play regardless of the score. He’s going to compete, and sometimes he'll try to hit home runs. And then we talk about those after the game and we always say, and it's true, those are his greatest strengths. He's a tough guy." He played way over his head, at the Isaiah Thomas All-Star level (but I do think that he has the talent to be a ton better than his stats this season).

One of the oddest phenomenon Of the Larry Bird era was after the '86 Championship. Larry kept getting injured. And the first Game after his injury, they would start some guy named Fred Robert (who abso-lute-ly sucked in all other games). But he would come in, when he started for an injured Larry, he'd drop 25-points, got a triple double, and help led the Celtics to a win. And, he did it more than once. He averaged over 20-PPG when he started for Larry, and just over 0-PPG when he didn't (I might be exaggerating a little, but less than you'd think;). Then he'd go back to the bench when Larry came back, and he'd average like 10 minutes a game and barely do anything. It was so bizarre.

There are plenty of other examples of a team losing their Superstar, and the rest of the guys stepping it up for a game or two. That was probably the oddest. The rest of the Celtics vets had to step it up as well. And the contrast between his game when he came off the bench, and when he started for an injured Larry Legend was like flaming-oil and water. 

All the Celtics veterans stepped up (though I'm still mad that Brown didn't get enough minutes;). "A lot of people doubting us out there," Al Horford said. " Thought we were finished. Heart. We got heart. We got beat bad, but it’s all about how you rebound and we bounced back tonight." And the true turning point in the game was when Jerebko stood up over Love, and essentially called him a pussy for flopping so pathetically. 

Playoff Basketball is bully ball. If you don't stand up to the bullies, they will pound you into the floor. "They was better today than we were, and we've got to figure out how to be better than them in Game 4," LaBron said. "But we look forward to the challenge. I think it's great. What happened hurts. It's a loss in the postseason. But I'm glad it kind of hurt. That it happened the way it did. Let our foot off the gas a little bit, didn't keep the pressure on them like we have been accustomed to." Marcus Smart stood up for Isaiah, like Fred Roberts did for Larry. But how long can he continue to do it? That is the question of the Series.

The Celtics stood up to the Cavs. "There’s only so much you can do," Stevens said about defending LaBron. "We just tried to be as solid as possible. We tried to switch a little bit less. I think we have a couple of guards out there that are bigger guards, and we just tried to rotate bodies on him. Jae Crowder picked up his fourth, and the threat of not having him out there is scary. He picked up his third in the middle of the 1st half. We were glad that he was able to finish." And mimicked their great Playoff toughness, especially on defense against LaBron. 

The Celtics became the aggressors in the 4th Quarter, after studying the Cavs for two and half games. "I feel some adversity is all part of the postseason," James said. "I feel like you have to have some type of adversity in order to be successful. If it was going to happen, let it happen now. Let us regroup. Let us regroup, and all the narrative and everything that was going on. Let's regroup and let's get back to playing desperate basketball, which they did tonight." And you knew that if they got the lead it would be hard for the Cavs to win.

They just weren't taking the Celtics seriously anymore. "It was hard. It was embarrassing," Bradley said. "I know everyone leaving the arena after last game, we were pretty down. But once we were able to get together the next day, we decided we’re going to play as hard as we can. We're going to be the toughest team. We're going to battle for the loose balls. We're going to play hard consistently the entire game. That was our mindset. We never counted ourselves out. We knew that if we came out and played hard, we would give ourselves a chance. You saw that tonight. And we're going to continue to play that way throughout the series." They learned from the Cavs Playoff intensity, poise, and smarts.

The refs gave the Cavs 24 more free throws than the Celtics. "Just a great display of heart on their part," Love said. "We knew they were going to come in and be professionals. They always play hard. They got down and had a lot of fight in 'em. That’s on us. We've got to be able to close out the game. We let one get away from us tonight." Which that can happen when you have to fight and claw your way to victory against a more talented and experienced team. 

In the end it was the shots heard 'round the basketball world that stopped the third massacre. "One of the plays that he drew up when Jonas Jerebko hit the shot, it was for me to lay the ball up," Bradley said. "But it was a play that I knew that if they helped, Jonas would be wide open, and he was able to knock down his shot. Those are all plays that Brad makes, and then it's our job to go out there and make sure that we make the next right play." Bradley drew in four defenders. 

It looked like he was going to get his shot slammed back in his face. "I knew LeBron was going to help," Bradley said. "I knew I was going to suck the defense in. And it was my job to act like I was going to lay the ball up, and kick it out to Jonas. I told Jonas to make sure he was ready. I wish he shot a three. But I'm just happy for Jonas. He was prepared and ready to shoot the ball. And he made some really big plays for our team tonight. He made the most of his opportunity." LaBron leaped at him and lined himself up to block the shot.

But then Bradley double pumped it, and hooked it out to Jerebko in the Corner. "I said that before the series even started about Brad Stevens ATOs (after timeouts)." LaBron said. "If you go back and look at my transcript, I said 'he’s very good out of ATOs'. He has so many different wrinkles, misdirection. Thinking the ball is going this way, he has a misdirection going the other way. You’ve got to kind of keep your head on a swivel." Jerebko caught it with a lateral hop to the left.

And jacked it up right away. "He’s a spacer, being able to kick out and knock down those shots," Stevens said. "But more important than that was the energy on defense. He blocked a shot, got a couple of rebounds, kept balls alive. We just needed a little jolt." Jerebko knocked it down.

With 10.7-seconds left after Cleveland tied it, Stevens drew up the old rope-a-dope. "He has so many different wrinkles, misdirection, thinking the ball is going this way," James said. "He has a misdirection going the other way. You’ve got to kind of keep your head on a swivel. He has a lot of packages. So you can plan for a few, but then he might run something you’ve never seen before. If we communicate a little bit better out of timeouts, it'll put us in position to be more successful against that." I started getting terrifying nervous as Smart stood there with the ball flat footed, like he was just going to heave it up with a second or so left on the clock. 

Bradley faked a pick for Crowder in the corner, and looped back around him, and Crowder was the one actually setting the pick. "I think it was the play called by Brad Stevens," Bradley said. "He did a great job of putting us in the right position, forcing them to have to help and not be able to switch. Al Horford made a great screen and Marcus Smart made an even better pass, and I was able to knock down a shot. It was a great play by Brad." Bradley's man (JR Smith) and Crowder's' man (Shambert) both followed Crowder into the Paint, as Bradley looped back outside the 3-point line and curled towards Smart.

Horford just had to hold off Tristan. "He did a great job of putting us in the right position, forcing them to have to help and not be able to switch," Bradley said. "Al Horford made a great screen and Marcus Smart made an even better pass, and I was able to knock down a shot. It was a great play by Brad." Then Smart snapped it to Bradley still curling behind Horford, who was still holding off his man.

Bradley had time to set his feet (he is not a good off balance shooter), square up, and shoot. "Thank God it's bouncing on the rim because that's taking time," Stevens said. "If it goes in or doesn't go in, they have a timeout left. We wanted to go at six seconds, and the hope was that they'd have less than one if they did get the ball. So when it bounced around, I was actually hoping it went in, obviously. But not completely disappointed that it was bouncing up there." The ball literally bounced on the rim for two seconds (it curved around the opposite side of the rim with 2.1-seconds on the clock:).

Then the ball hit the glass and back of the rim at the sometime, bounced up, and fell softly through the hoop. "Same spot, same man," Smart said. " There go that man again. Avery doing what he does. Last time we won in here, he hit a game winner in the same spot from that corner. I knew it was going in. And if it didn’t, I would be there to tip it in." Of course the problem is that the next game after the Superstar goes down is nearly impossible to win.

A player steps up into the Superstars role, like Fred Roberts and Smart, but can't play that role for more than one or two games in a row. Roberts was able to do it a few times for a couple of games. But as their game comes back to Earth they falter. Now Smart is an excellent talent, and this could be his coming out Party. He is one of the toughest guys on the team. But I just don't see him playing at Isaiah/Larry's level for three or four games (yet;).

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