From left, Boston Celtics' Jae Crowder, Al Horford, and Avery Bradley stand during a stop in play in the second half of Game 2 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
There are only two ways the Celtics climb out of this 0-2 hole
One, recruit a group of multi-colored superheroes and hope they own a giant robot strong enough to contain Cleveland's own superhuman, LeBron James.
Two, summon the ghosts of champions past and hope to the heavens that Boston greats Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Bill Russell, and coach Red Auerbach heed. Still, even then, they may not be enough.
That's how deep this 0-2 hole for Boston is. Any two-game hole is far from ideal, of course, (the Cavs did it last year, remember?), but a two-game hole against the defending champions, on the road, opposite the greatest force of nature in the past decade, AND without Isaiah Thomas? That's like playing chicken with a ten-wheeler while you're riding on a mountain bike.
And yet in the realm of reality, anything can happen. Outside of robots and big green greats, the fact of the matter is these Celtics are still alive. They're battered, bruised, and for all intents and purposes, down an undersized but stubbornly resilient superstar, but with still two lives left in these Eastern Conference Finals, they can maybe still pull off the unthinkable. They were down 0-2 in their series versus the Bulls heading into Chicago, and still they made it this far.
However, and this is not to overstate the obvious, Cleveland is NOT Chicago (although the Bulls did sweep them in the regular season — go figure) and coming out of Cleveland with even just one win won't be easy. The Cavs are undefeated at home in the postseason, and they have been playing fresh, fascinating, almost insultingly frolicking basketball. For Boston to manage to pull the rug from under LBJ & Co. in the Land, coach Brad Stevens and his wards have to play the game of their lives in game three.
Game three — not game four. The Celtics cannot wait that long for manna from the skies. It would be hard enough for them overhauling 0-2, but to wrap their heads around a 0-3 deficit would be nothing short of impossible. You'd have a better chance of finding eight-eyed fish in the depths of the blue yonder.
Here's what Stevens and his guys need to do:
1 - Get very physical. They have Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, and Jaylen Brown. They have to use these guys. Bump, hit, foul, stomp the friggin' yard (Olynyk, in particular, has not been nearly as lethal as he should be against, say, Kevin Love). They're at the point where going talent-to-talent with the deepest team in the league has become senseless, especially with Thomas officially out of the playoffs, so they will need to get in the Cavs' heads and make them pay every time they try to be cute with their crossovers, step-backs, and alley-oops. Ain't no room for mistakes and being on YouTube highlight reels if you're the Celtics. Not in game three, and not in the ECF.
2 - Slow the game down. This is an old basketball axiom — if you're up against a much stronger team, you stand a better chance of upsetting them if you grind the game to a halt. Keep the score low. Prevent any momentum from being gained. Lessen the opportunities for the Cavs to end up running, skipping, and jumping in transition. Play the way Memphis does — the way that will make (ironically) former Cavs coach Mike Fratello beam from ear to ear. If the pace is slow and the score is low, the Cavs may be uncomfortable, and the door will be ajar for a Celtics' miracle — maybe an Avery Bradley game-winner or a 40-point career night from Al Horford. Low and slow, Boston. That's how you cook good, and you'll need all the good cookin' you can get in game three.
Those are the two ingredients that will help an Isaiah-Thomas-less Boston stick with Cleveland moving forward. It will be tough as hell, and it will hurt like nailz, but as long as there are games to be played, these Celtics cannot afford hang their heads just yet. They have to keep fighting, kicking, and screaming. Sure, they may still go down, but they'll do it in flames, with the entire world admiring (and snapping) every bump, check, elbow, knee, and scrape on the floor.
And when they wake up from this nightmare, there will no longer be any LeBron James bottle-flipping on the sidelines.
There will just be the 2017 NBA Draft, where the #1 pick will make everything in Beantown right again.
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