Game 8 of 82, Friday, November 14, 430pm PST
Cavs @ Celtics
I was fast when I was little. Faster than most of my friends. Faster than most of my classmates. Faster than my older brother. Fast because of my older brother. We would irritate each other. I would push him over the edge and then I would bolt. There were times he would catch me, but I was small, and low to the ground, and full of fakes.
At the end of every school year, our entire grade (about 50 kids) participated in a “Race around the park.” The race was one 200-250 yard loop around a field. Everyone ran as fast as they could for the first 100 feet. By the halfway point, some kids had given up. Some started walking. Some wandered off. Some fell over and gasped. By the last turn, there were usually 4-6 of us in the front. As my lungs began to burn, and as each stride became a struggle, the pace slowed. Unlike Usain Bolt, nobody had a strong “kick,” We were all getting kicked. The pace was always unsustainable. The winner — sometimes Bobby, sometimes me, one time the new kid, Chris, would be the boy who could barely hang on to a moderate jog.
These days, I don’t run. Since we joined a fitness center near our new place, I’ve been using an arc trainer. It’s a good workout, definitely feels good to be getting my blood pumping again. Building up stamina takes time. I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be, physically. I haven’t played basketball or tennis much in the last several years. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem impossible to get myself back to a place where I can still run, for at least a few minutes, without gasping like an injured seal.
The Celtics simply ran out of steam again on Friday. Facing the reborn Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James, they sprinted to a 31-22 1st quarter lead. As has been the case for several early-season games, the lead dissolved quickly. The halftime score: Celtics 59, Cavs 59. Both teams have struggled on the defensive end. One effect of pushing the pace has been the resulting lack of energy of the other side of the ball. Some of the defensive struggles are inevitable. The Celtics have been playing Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger at the same time. They have zero rim protection and opposing teams are finishing at the rim without much worry. The Celtics built the early lead by maintaining their offensive strategy of rapid ball movement.
The third quarter was a thing of beauty for the Celtics, Brad Stevens and the fans. 42 points. 14 assists on 16 field goals. Only 1 turnover. Rajon Rondo’s playmaking was wondrous, leading to 9 of the 16 makes. Sullinger, Olynyk, Green and Turner all connected on 3 or more shots. The Cavs defense was abysmal. Boston started the 4th quarter with a 101-84 lead. Only the most skeptical Celtics fan could have expected the 4th quarter to unravel as it did. It’s not that the Celtics are so good that they should ever be ahead by 17 points against a team that may eventually discover a sense of cohesion and become a legitimate championship contender. Clearly the Cavs are a work-in-progress (much like the Celtics). However, their potential with LeBron and Love make them a heavily scrutinized work-in-progress. So…a 17-point lead with 12 minutes remaining. Was it safe? No. No lead is safe with this Celtics team. Dangerous leads only.
Think of each game like a wide expanse of sky, filled with pockets of bright sun, and then quickly arriving thunderclouds. Rain comes and goes in flashes. The sky never stays the same. This is the reality of the 2014-15 Boston Celtics. We are conditioned to remain aware of the score. We are conditioned to focus on winning and losing. It gives each game a meaning. Stakes. The place in the standings. And yet, it won’t help you this year. What will help you is to remain aware of the fact that the sky is forever changing.
Kyrie Irving will be in the spotlight all season. The Cavs may or may not make the Eastern Conference Finals this year. Cleveland fans who are expecting the NBA Finals this year may be overzealous. Chemistry doesn’t build overnight. Look at the San Antonio Spurs and consider the decades of familiarity they’ve spent learning each other’s games.
Kyrie Irving trimmed the 17-point (mostly imaginary) cushion down to 10 with three straight triples. 9:47 remained on the clock. 105-95. At the 7-minute mark, Jeff Green countered with a 25-footer of his own. The lead was back to 12, 114-102. Six straight points to Cleveland. A few Green misses. A Bradley turnover.
With 2:29 on the clock, and the lead whittled down to 3, Rondo made a twisting lay-up. Celtics 118, Cavs 113. The scoreboard should have read: Celtics undefined, Cavs gaining.
LeBron went on to score the next 8 points.
The Celtics had possession of the ball with 7 seconds left, trailing by one point.
Any attempt at a play was impossible to discern. Rondo dribbled, mishandled, dribbled and faked. The clock expired. No shot attempted. No sunshine in sight. An existential kind of loss.
Game 8 of 82.
This will be an existential kind of season for Boston. Much more interesting than blowing every team out and waiting until April to be tested. Every game is a test for the Celtics and their fans.