BOSTON — If there’s anything we’ve learned from watching the Boston Celtics this season, as they’ve adroitly navigated the perils of rebuilding while simultaneously claiming the one seed in the Eastern Conference and landing the top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, it’s that the future in Boston is bright, perhaps blindingly so.
But there is a present to be reckoned with as well, and at the cusp of the Celtics’ immediate future awaits another game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are currently creating a bottleneck for anyone opponent looking to win the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Making it to the conference finals is a terrific accomplishment, particularly for a team in the midst of a rebuild. But the Celtics aren’t looking for moral victories.
“We’re not just happy to be here,” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas said on Thursday at Celtics’ practice. “Like, we want to win this series, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We want to let everybody in this world know that we’re for real, and we’re one of the top teams in the NBA, and with this series we’ve got to go out and show the world because like everybody knows, everybody is counting us out, and we’ve been there before, though, so it’s nothing new for us.”
The Celtics managed to snag the top spot in the Eastern Conference by finishing the regular season with a Conference-best 53-29 record, but getting further than the conference finals will require negotiating some way around, over or through a Cleveland team that has clearly been saving a top gear for the postseason, as they’ve gone 9-0 thus far. After losing Game 1 to the Cavs 117-104, the Celtics returned to their practice lab on Thursday looking for answers to a riddle that has vexed many around the NBA over the last decade and a half: Just how does a team dethrone King James in a seven game series?
James finished Game 1 with 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. When presented with single coverage, James drove to the basket and either scored or drew a foul. When the Celtics sent multiple defenders, James responded by taking on double-teams and finding teammates spotting up around the three-point line.
“Once you take up space and [James] beats you by a step,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, “he sprays it to a wide-open shooter. I think there are a lot of things that I think sound good in theory. I just think we have to do our best to mix it up appropriately without overdoing it, and make sure that we try our best to keep him in front. Obviously, if we want to…