Last night’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers had a definitive playoff feel. The Cavs are currently atop the Eastern Conference, while the Celtics are now hot on their tail with last night’s win. The fallout of the Celtics’ 103-99 win raises many questions, but there is one that is on everyone’s mind after last night: is this an Eastern Conference Finals preview, and if so, did the Celts show us they can hang with the defending champions?
In short, yes. The Celtics were able to grind out a thrilling fourth quarter and beat the Cavaliers, and they did it by sinking big shots in big moments. This showdown between these two particular teams had the type of hype surrounding it that we haven’t seen since the Celtics’ big three era, back when LeBron couldn’t get over the hump and win a championship in his first stint with Cleveland.
Though the Cavs may be undeterred by this loss, it shows that the Celtics could keep up with Cleveland in a 7-game series. In recent years, the Cavaliers have all but steamrolled through the Eastern Conference playoffs, but the 2016-17 Celtics have shown that they have other plans.
Of course, the Celtics won’t be able to rely on 31 points from Isaiah Thomas every game. In order to beat Cleveland, they would need a total team effort, something that they have shown they are capable of putting together. The prospect that the Celtics could actually do this, however, is exciting for Boston fans to say the least.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the win for the Celtics is that they did it despite a triple-double from LeBron James. It was James’ seventh of the season, and not many teams are able to beat the Cavs when he’s hot like that. The Celtics took LeBron’s best shot and still came out victorious.
The recent injury to Kevin Durant has also shifted the playoff scene. If he is unable to get to a healthy level by the time April rolls around, it makes the Western Conference a whole lot more interesting. At that point, the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets would come into play. A more even Western Conference would mean more wear-and-tear, which could be good news for the Celtics or Cavaliers, depending on who makes it in this hypothetical situation.
At the very least, the Celtics showed the world that they have arrived as contenders. The next step in the Brad Stevens era will most likely have to run through Cleveland, and last night, they showed that they can keep up and win. If you thought this game was intense, mark your calendar for April 5th. The two teams will meet again at the TD Garden in one of the final games before the NBA Playoffs begin.