There’s no denying how good the Boston Celtics have been this season. They’ve sat in second place in the Eastern Conference standings for a good chunk of this year, going on winning runs that even the NBA’s elite would be proud of. However, despite being amongst the top three in the conference for the majority of the season, the C’s have always seemed to struggle against the league’s best. Teams from the Western Conference like the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets have frequently seemed to get the best of Boston. Likewise with the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards are rosters that the C’s have struggled to beat. Brad Stevens’ men have a record of 3-12 against those opponents. Showing that they’ve beaten the teams they’ve needed to beat, but that’s it.
Then Wednesday came along. The Celtics have been winners of 8 of their last 12 games, but were coming off a disappointing home outing against the Detroit Pistons (98-114 L). An opportunity was presented to the C’s, a chance for a real statement win against the reigning NBA Champion Cavaliers. Both with a fully fit and healthy LeBron James and Kyrie Erving to boot, who attacked and attacked over and over but couldn’t put the Celtics out of sight. Impressively the C’s stayed present throughout the entire game and picked up a deserved 103-99 victory. This isn’t any standard win either. This is a win that brings you respect from other teams. Not only did the Celtics beat the leagues best, they proved that they should be in the conversation with those teams for the East crown.
From the prospective of a neutral this game had everything you could have wanted. It had a playoff atmosphere from the get go, it had big plays, hustle plays and even New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick came to watch, thats when you know this was a big game. There were 19 ties and 24 lead changes over the course of the night and it went down to the very last few seconds.
Kyle Korver‘s 3-point shot with 54 seconds left gave the Cavs a 2-point lead late on. All-star Isaiah Thomas, or Mr 4th Quarter as of late, picked up a dribble hand-off from teammate Marcus Smart, returned fire with a three of his own, after fooling Cavs guard Iman Shumpert to regain the lead for his team.
Kyrie Erving then took control, going straight back at Thomas before making an impressive acrobatic lay-up over the top of C’s shot blocking machine Al Horford, tying the game at 99-99 late.
No surprise that with the game on the line, the Boston Celtics glued the ball to the hands of Isaiah Thomas, who attacked Cavs recently acquired guard Deron Williams and took him deep into the paint before drawing contact and the foul. Thomas converted both free-throw shots to put the Celtics up 101-99. The Cavs went back down the floor with the chance to win it with 28 seconds left, but failed with two attempts.
Irving went toe-to-toe with Avery Bradley, creating just about enough room to get off a baseline fade-away that came up just short. Cavs forward Tristen Thompson battled for the rebound and kicked it back out to LeBron James who quickly found an open Deron Williams to avoid a two-man closeout. Williams’ corner three attempt rimmed out and was rebounded by Boston’s Jae Crowder. Crowder was then intentionally fouled by James, who easily knocked down the two free-throws to seal a huge 103-99 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After an incredible duel with Kyrie Erving, Thomas ended up with 31 points, 11 of which came in the 3rd quarter. However, unlike previous games, Thomas seemed to be held in check in the 4th, hitting just the one shot. But it may have been the biggest of the game. That step back three to give the C’s a 99-97 lead.
The Celtics continue to prove people wrong, and are now just 3 games behind the Cavs for the Eastern Conference lead. They travel to the Staples Center on Friday to face their rivals Los Angles Lakers.