By Matthew Cunha
The Boston Celtics went to Cleveland and stole a game. Despite the loss in the second game in Cleveland, game four was perhaps an even more impressive showing. It took a 40 point third quarter (23 from Kyrie Irving) on 76.2% shooting for the Cavs to win. The Celtics did all of this without team MVP Isaiah Thomas, and after being publicly humiliated in the first two games. The Celtics are not going to win three games in a row and go the NBA Finals, so why does winning a game and being competitive in another even matter?
Normally I am not one for rewarding a “good effort”, but in this case it matters. The Celtics are in a position where they need to do everything they can to find the couple of players they need to compete with the league’s elite teams. Their current roster contains a bunch of good role players and a couple of borderline great players that are coached well. This combination got them to the Eastern Conference finals, but if they never find their superstars they could be stuck in this position for the foreseeable future. The past couple of games shows that perhaps they are closer to competing than we thought just a week ago.
Danny Ainge and the Celtics pitch to these free agents looks a lot more convincing than it did after the humiliation of game 2. Any possible free agent has to look at what the Celtics pulled off in these games and be encouraged. Ainge can now convince guys like Gordon Hayward that this team is right on the brink of competing, and he could be the piece that puts them over the top. If Ainge can put the idea in these free agents heads that with their addition, they can compete with the top dogs, the Celtics could land the superstars needed. “Look at we did without Isaiah and without the #1 pick, you can put us over the edge.” If you pitch that to a NBA free agent with the ability to give them a max contract, I think top players would have a very hard time passing on Boston.
Free Agents are an important part of the Celtics run to glory, because they don’t cost any assets other than the money they need to spend anyway. It also guarantees that the player wanted to be a Celtic, (unless they, gasp, did it only for the money! Perish the thought). Yes, you can trade assets for superstars but that doesn’t guarantee they will bleed green. Free agents will be committed to leading the C’s to an NBA championship. The Celtics can keep their other assets (like the Nets #1 pick in 2018 and Markelle Fultz). The Celtics are in a unique situation where they are a good NBA team and have plenty of cap space. Their showing the last two games really allows for Ainge to play the team’s good fortune to the hilt and lure big names to a destination that before Al Horford, had never been the most desirable place for big name free agents.
The Celtics improbable showing in Cleveland keeps the team morale high going into next season. Two more deflating losses and the Celtics current roster could have started to feel like they were years away from competing and light years away from the Cavaliers. These last two games sent the message to everybody that the Celtics are almost there. Everyone now knows that the Celtics are emerging. The C’s now have expectations, and I think that Brad Stevens and company will flourish with this added pressure.
In the short term, the Celtics winning game three was useless in a micro way and in a macro way could be huge for the franchise’s future. It brought this team another step closer into the process of progressive improvement. Anything they can do to get that superstar is a moment to celebrate. In game 5 tonight, Ainge’s argument can take even another level.
Matthew Cunha is a producer on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.