In loss to Cavs, Celtics see where they must go

May 26, 2017 GMT

Someday, at a more mature stage when their young and future stars have been tempered by a few more postseasons, the Celtics might have this ability to move in for the kill.

The Cleveland Cavaliers walked onto the parquet last night, not with thoughts of Golden State and the NBA Finals, but with a mind to putting these exacerbating Celtics down for the year.

The C’s certainly made themselves felt against the defending champs, first with a Game 3 win in Cleveland and then a surprising length of time in the lead in Game 4.

But even with Isaiah Thomas, a Celtics win in the Eastern Conference finals was going to rank as the greatest NBA upset in memory. Without him, the Celtics went down predictably with last night’s season-ending 135-102 Game 5 loss to Cleveland.

There wasn’t any attempt to run a silver lining through this one.

“It sucks,” said Jae Crowder. “It’s the worst part of the year, being eliminated, falling short. It’s a pretty hard thing to swallow, so I’m pretty down.”

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LeBron James scored 35 points on an absurdly efficient 13-for-18 shooting, and nearly hit a triple double with eight each in assists and rebounds. He didn’t return for the garbage time fourth. Kyrie Irving had 24 points and four 3-pointers, three of those while the Cavs were putting the Celtics down in the third quarter.

The Celtics returned to their offensively sparse ways with Avery Bradley (23 points) the only player to rise above the drought. Three other Celtics (Crowder, Terry Rozier, Gerald Green) reached low double figures, with starters Al Horford (eight), Kelly Olynyk (seven) and Marcus Smart (six) never getting out of single digits.

They trailed by 20 points for the first time in the first quarter after the Cavaliers opened with a 6-for-11 barrage from 3-point range, and were ultimately buried when, for the second time in the series, the Cavaliers finished with 19 3-pointers.

“We were all disappointed in the way we ended this season,” said Bradley. “But we were able to take a lot of positives away. Out of all the teams in the NBA, we’re one of the three teams left at this time of the year, and that was one of our goals.

“Obviously our main goal was to make it to the championship and win it, but for us to be in the Eastern Conference finals after the first year of this team really being together, adding additions like Al Horford and Gerald Green, I can go down the list of guys that we needed to learn to play with, and for us to talk about where we wanted to be and actually make it, it’s a big-time accomplishment.

“But this leaves a certain taste in our mouth, getting here and not getting to the championship. Cleveland just outplayed us in this series; credit to those guys.”

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But if the Celtics carried a positive thought out of last night, it was the sense they are merely at the start of something better, with the top pick in the draft this year, anticipation over being a major player in the free agent market this summer, and the last of the Brooklyn gift picks next year.

“We’ll be a better team next year,” said Bradley, “and we will make sure that we put ourselves in a great position to make the Eastern Conference finals and give ourselves a better chance at making the championship.”

Horford liked the sound of that.

“I’m proud. I’m proud of our group and I felt like we grew as the year went on,” he said. “Not the way we wanted to finish, but I felt like we came a long ways from the beginning of the year. We came together and that was fun to be a part of. We think we have a good group of guys, guys that compete and play hard.

“We still, obviously, have to keep growing as a group. Getting better and we obviously see that the team to get past is Cleveland, and right now we’re not there. We’re not where we need to be.”

Indeed, the Cavaliers’ run to the Finals, with their Game 3 defeat to the Celts their only loss in a 12-1 postseason, was a good measure of just how far the Celtics have to go.

“I can’t believe it’s over,” said Smart. “We’ve worked all year, we obviously want this season to keep going, it’s hard but it’s summer time now. It’s time to get back to the grind.”