The Boston Celtics had just one day of rest between beating Washington in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis and facing Cleveland in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Maybe that can explain why the Celtics looked listless from the opening tip, trailed by 22 at halftime, and lost 117-104.
Or it’s just because Cleveland has LeBron James, who scored a game-high 38 points Wednesday.
“He was just destroying everybody that was in front of him,” Celtics TV announcer Brian Scalabrine said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “The Celtics didn’t have the fight that they typically have in Game 1. They had a little bit in the last 18 minutes when the game was already out of reach, but we’ll find out in Game 2 what this team is made of. This team is pretty resilient, but the gap might just be too big. LeBron is so great. That’s why I was laughing when the national media jumped on board of, ‘The Celtics should make a trade for Jimmy Butler and then they can challenge LeBron.’ Everyone thinks there’s a crack in the road. I think it’s a grand canyon right now. It’s a huge, huge difference between the Cavs and Celtics. The Celtics got a long way to go before they’re there.”
Having the No. 1 pick in the draft should help, provided that the Celtics do the right thing with it. Ultimately, should Boston keep the pick or trade it?
“It’s going to be an awkward situation because in basketball free agency is after the draft,” Scalabrine said. “Here’s how I look at this: Gordon Hayward, he’s a free agent. If he signs with the Celtics, you can trade (Markelle) Fultz after that. You wait until you sign a free agent – where you don’t give up anything on your team – and then you get Gordon Hayward for nothing. Cap space, but that’s another conversation. Then at that point, your window is now. But if you don’t get Gordon Hayward in free agency or somebody significant in free agency, then I think you just go forward with Markelle Fultz as your guy and you wait to strike.”
Boston, of course, must assess its roster, but it must do so while also assessing Cleveland’s.
“Listen, in NBA circles right now, there’s a lot of talk: When is LeBron going to slow down?” Scalabrine said. “There is also talk that LeBron could leave and go out West and go to L.A. There’s talk he could go back to Miami. There’s a lot of speculation about what could happen. I think you got to treat it (year-to-year). Where is your team at this year, next year, the following year? I think that having a young Fultz and Jaylen Brown and a Terry Rozier and old guys like Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford and that group of players, I think you can do it. It’s a lot harder to win a championship, but I think you could do it. If everything comes together perfectly, if everybody you draft develops the right way and everyone continues to do that and go down that road, then yeah, you have a chance.
“But it’s hard to win a championship,” Scalabrine continued. “You better have the right pieces. I just don’t think that selling off the No. 1 pick for Paul George or Jimmy Butler is enough. I don’t. I think you’re good. I just don’t think you’re a championship-level team. I think it’s hard to get to that point over LeBron. Look what we saw last night. That gap is huge.”
Scalabrine, though, believes that if the Celtics win a championship, it will involve Thomas. The Celtics will need a lot of length and athleticism around him, but the notion that you can’t win a title with a 5-9 point guard, Scalabrine said, is “old-school.”
“If Isaiah was on LeBron’s team,” he said, “you could win a championship.”