Everybody knows the conference finals are just a tune up for the Cavs' inevitable - or as conspiracy theorists call it, "pre-ordained" - rematch with Golden State for the championship belt. One week earlier, the Golden State Warriors trailed by 25 points at home to the San Antonio Spurs before rallying to win Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, but that Lazarus maneuver was nearly expected.
Then the series shifted to Cleveland - Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas went down for the remainder of the series and everything changed. Then Game 3 happened. "You just live in the moment". With ball movement down, the Cavs didn't cash in on what they needed to and their defensive bets didn't hit.
Maybe the only thing more unpredictable than a bad LeBron game is Marcus Smart hitting seven threes in a game.
Bad enough that the Cavaliers' superstar, a.k.a., "not an MVP finalist this year", had taken hits for almost 48 hours by tipoff Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. After being awarded the 1st pick in the 2017 draft it seems they will add yet another guard. This means the Celtics will most likely cut ties with either Smart, Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier.
"I didn't have it tonight", James said. All along the Celtics have been a competitive team.
What this season's playoff lacks in drama it is quickly making up for with suspicion.
"They're playing a lot differently now". The series was pushed to 7 but the Celtics ultimately got by to the finals. You will not. Anywhere.
One game is no measure on how the Celtics would play without Thomas. With no defender in the paint to protect the rim - Tristan Thompson would normally be in position to take away those looks but he has to respect Horford's shooting ability - both Smith and Shumpert decide to chase Crowder rather than switching or simply staying on their own assignments. One must think that Boston intends on using the duo's skills next season.
The defending National Basketball Association champions can wrap up their third straight conference title - and a "three-match" against the Warriors - with a win in Game 5 on Friday in Boston.
The next step is to pursue a top-tier free agent. Without Thomas, players had to step up as facilitators and playmakers and orchestrate the win. Many people will want the Celtics to trade for force a trade for a big, but that's unnecessary.
Every great player that's put on an National Basketball Association uniform has looked pedestrian at times in the playoffs, and James is no different. But they should have collectively shut out the Celtics easily.
But the most telling sign of the night to me was after Bradley's bucket dropped. "Obviously, we're here for a reason, and we've got tough-minded, competitive guys who have largely been guys that have had to really earn their way up in this league". Sometime this summer, the headline will be "Celtics trade Thomas" and it won't be a surprising move. The bench got involved, scoring 32 points while the Cav's bench only came up with nine.
"We're not in a rush", said Ainge, who added that so far Thomas' meetings have been with team physician Brian McKeon and his medical group.