Cavs just shifted all pressure onto the Celtics with Game 2 win in Boston — Jimmy Watkins (2024)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Jayson Tatum wants to be the league’s best player. Jaylen Brown wants to be a Boston legend. And the Boston Celtics want to restore their glory with an 18th NBA championship, which would break a tie with the Lakers for most all time.

Sounds like a lot to shoulder, doesn’t it?

The Cavs added to that weight with Thursday’s 118-94 road win over Boston, which tied this second-round series at one game apiece. Boston fans left early as Cleveland’s lead eclipsed 20 points because this fanbase’s standards are too high to wish on an unlikely comeback. And the Celtics are once again in a precarious playoff position after a dominant regular season, which might sound familiar to the people who started their cars with five minutes still to play during Game 2.

Cavs just shifted all pressure onto the Celtics with Game 2 win in Boston — Jimmy Watkins (1)

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By normal NBA standards, Boston has been a model franchise over the last eight years, during which the Celtics have made five conference finals runs and advanced to an NBA Finals. But without a championship to show for it, the Tatum-Brown years feel like a failure in Boston. And given that the Celtics have lost as a favorite during its last two playoff runs — 2022 vs. the Warriors, 2023 vs. the Heat — their fan base is losing patience.

The Cavs are still dramatic underdogs in this series, but Thursday’s win introduced a sliver of doubt into a Boston core that has proven itself capable of surprising playoff exits. Another playoff disappointment?

It can’t be happening again. Or at least, it better not. The Celtics are home to the late Bill Russell, the NBA’s greatest winner whose name is engraved on the Finals MVP trophy. Boston witnessed four-time champion Larry Bird, whose name is engraved on the Eastern Conference finals MVP trophy. And its fanbase expects nothing less from the current Celtics, who lost a puzzling home playoff game Thursday for the second time this postseason.

Sounds like a lot to shoulder, doesn’t it?

Four more takeaways from Cleveland’s Game 2 win against Boston:

Cavs just shifted all pressure onto the Celtics with Game 2 win in Boston — Jimmy Watkins (2)

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2. Evan Mobley makes a major playoff stride

Evan Mobley played seven games this season with at least 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists. He posted that stat line at halftime of Game 2, and Cleveland might have a series-changing development on its hands if he can replicate (or even approximate) that performance going forward.

Mobley finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists Thursday, a stat line he matched just once during the regular season and zero times during his playoff career (admittedly just 14 games old). And he still finished with his usual dose of blocked shots (two), which Cleveland can count on like sunrises at this point.

The questions about Mobley have always focused on his offense. If Cleveland is going to reach its ceiling as a young core, Mobley needs to reach his on offense. He showed signs Thursday in a hostile playoff environment against an elite defense. And if Mobley can duplicate (or even replicate) his Game 2 performance going forward, it changes this series and, potentially, Cleveland’s long-term outlook.

3. Boston’s 3-point reliance

The Celtics led the NBA in 3-point attempts and 3-point percentage this season, and their Game 2 loss demonstrated the danger of relying so heavily on jump shooting.

Boston shot 22.9% from 3 on Thursday, which was their second-worst shooting performance of the postseason. Four regulars made zero attempts, and while the Celtics can claim bad shooting luck, they can’t assume their fortunes will improve (even if their logo is a leprechaun).

Teams that shoot 3s invite variance into their performance, which means they shouldn’t be surprised when they hit a cold spell. And they shouldn’t expect the problem to automatically correct itself.

Over long periods? Sure, the Celtics won’t keep shooting 23% from 3-point range. But over one game, they did. And Cleveland only needs one or two more such performances to make this series interesting.

4. J.B. Bickerstaff’s misguided second-quarter lineup

Georges Niang and Marcus Morris Sr. played 95 minutes together during the regular season and six more during the playoffs before Game 2 of Cavs-Celtics. But after Cleveland’s best quarter of this series (if not the entire postseason), Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff deployed the tandem together to disastrous results.

Boston outscored the Cavs 18-7 in the five-ish minutes where Bickerstaff used Niang and Morris as his power forward and center, respectively. Ten of those points came in the paint, where Cleveland offered little resistance without anything resembling a rim protector. And the Cavs’ offense, which was supposed to get a boost from Niang and Morris, committed two turnovers compared to three field goals during that stretch.

To be fair, Bickerstaff didn’t have many good options without starting center Jarrett Allen, who would usually share the one-big minutes with Mobley. And Bickerstaff correctly identified that Cleveland’s second unit needed offensive help after the Cavs scored six points in seven competitive minutes without Donovan Mitchell in Game 1.

But Niang and Morris have made six combined 3-pointers this postseason. Cleveland knew neither player would offer much rim protection. And if rebounding is the coaching staff’s concern, what is the difference between Niang, who entered Thursday with eight postseason rebounds in 92 playoff minutes, and Sam Merrill, who has seven rebounds in 66 playoff minutes?

If anything, the difference is that Merrill might make a couple jumpers. And if Cleveland wants to win this series, it probably shouldn’t play the Niang-Morris frontcourt again.

5. Hoping for home cooking

Another silver lining from Thursday’s victory: Cleveland is coming back home, where it has not lost this postseason and where the Celtics should be (slightly) less effective, according to their season-long numbers.

Boston suffered 14 of its 18 regular-season losses on the road this season. It shot 37.4% from 3 compared to 40.3% at home. And the Celtics’ defense allowed an effective field goal percentage of 53.8% during away games compared to 50.8% at home.

The Cavs have struggled to score regardless of arena this postseason, but their offensive rating is seven points higher at home (103.9) than on the road (96.5). And their 3-point percentage is almost seven points higher at home (31.5%) than on the road (24.8%).

Again, neither of those splits are good enough to beat Boston. But the numbers suggest that Boston could be more vulnerable and Cleveland should raise its game this weekend.

Never mind that Boston’s road record (29-14, including playoffs), is nearly identical to the Cavs’ home record (30-15, including playoffs).

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Cavs just shifted all pressure onto the Celtics with Game 2 win in Boston — Jimmy Watkins (2024)

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