Home Sports The Celtics are still waiting for a challenger to emerge in the East, but will there be one?

The Celtics are still waiting for a challenger to emerge in the East, but will there be one?

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Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) shoots as the Cleveland Cavaliers' Donovan Mitchell defends during the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series on Tuesday, May 7, 2024 in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BOSTON – Is anyone in the Eastern Conference going to give the Celtics a series?

The Cleveland Cavaliers took their first shot of the second round and it didn’t go well. They got 33 points from All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell and too little, too late from anyone else in Game 1 at TD Garden on Tuesday night. That might be enough to overtake the Orlando Magic, but Boston, which won 120-95, is a different animal.

It seemed like the Celtics could get anyone in double figures if they wanted. Jaylen Brown scored 15 of his 32 points in the first quarter. Derrick White added 14 of his 25 in the third. Jrue Holiday and Payton Pritchard combined for 30. The Celtics barely needed Jayson Tatum, who didn’t shoot well, hasn’t been spectacular yet in these playoffs, and still put up 18 points, 11 rebounds and five assists on the night.

They don’t even have Kristaps Porziņģis.

“We have a lot of threats on our team with the addition of Porziņģis, with the acceleration of Derrick White, and that means a lot of guys are going to be successful,” said Brown, who finished 12 of 18 from the field. “When I get it, I need to be efficient with the opportunities I have. We have a lot of different guys that can do a lot of different things, and I’ve only enhanced that. I think that’s made us a better team, but it’s also made me more efficient. “When I have the ball, I want to be as lethal as possible.”

The atmosphere inside TD Garden for this second-round series resembled a hyped regular-season game and has been that way since the playoffs began. Even when the Miami Heat stole Game 2 in Boston, no one In fact He believed a roster without Jimmy Butler presented a challenge. The way the rest of that series went, explosion after explosion, the Celtics were simply giving the legendary Mike Gorman, play-by-play, the courtesy of one last home broadcast.

Gorman, sitting courtside Tuesday, received the biggest ovation of the night, as the Celtics showed on the Jumbotron. The next biggest cheer came late in the third quarter, when Pritchard hit a 28-footer at the buzzer to give Boston a 92-77 lead. Cleveland hadn’t been within single digits since the second. This crowd wanted their beating, and the Celtics gave it to them just a few minutes into the fourth quarter.

Everyone in Boston is still waiting for a challenger. No one believes Cleveland is either. The Cavaliers shot 50% from the field and 50% from 3-point range in the first quarter and still trailed at the end, 40-34. The Celtics shot 32% from the field and 25% from 3-point range in the second quarter and still led at halftime, 59-49.

“The game was closer because we weren’t making shots,” Brown said. “They were scoring on the other end… What allowed the game to open up is that we kept defending, and then the shots started going in, so defense, being able to make stops, allows us to play the lifestyle that we want “That means making shots, making three-pointers, but we didn’t get those stops in the first quarter, and that’s why the game was much closer.”

The Celtics beat the Cavaliers by 25 and believe they can play much better. And they’re probably right.

“If you want to get where you want to get against teams like this, you can always strive for another level,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “The balance between knowing that you did a lot of good things but knowing that there are 10 to 15 possessions that you want to clean up… Just having that mentality of getting better every day.”

“Anything can happen,” Brown added. “It’s the NBA playoffs… It’s going to be tough for a team to have to beat us four times, but as long as we go out there, execute on both ends and be the team that plays the hardest, I think.” we will be fine.”

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 32 points in Game 1. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Celtics may not be looking for their next opponent yet, but we certainly can.

The New York Knicks, as tough as they are, could be exhausted by the time the conference finals roll around. Every night is a dog fight. Their second scorer, Julius Randle, will be out for the rest of the season. So is Bojan Bogdanović. Mitchell Robinson could be too. Head coach Tom Thibodeau relies on six or seven players, depending on the night, with the three most important (Jalen Brunson, OG Anunoby and Josh Hart) exceeding 40 minutes a night.

Meanwhile, the well-rested Celtics are giving their starters extra breathing room for most of the fourth quarter.

Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton hasn’t been the same since a hamstring injury in January. The Celtics have already silenced Pascal Siakam in the playoffs. Who else is scaring Boston? Myles Turner?

Boston believes Porziņģis will return, possibly in the next round, if his timing is right, and Cleveland paid a price for that assignment in Game 1. You can get the highest odds (-1600) if you still believe in the Cavs.

“We just have a lot of different ways to win a game,” said Tatum, who has not exceeded 23 points in a playoff victory this season, “and I would assume it’s hard for the other team to try to figure that out.” “.

The question is whether an easy path to the NBA Finals would actually be good for the Celtics. Whoever comes out of the Western Conference will have been through a challenge. Even if the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to triumph (if the Denver Nuggets don’t turn that into a series), they will have done so against a star-studded trio of defending champions. and either Luka Dončić or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

But that’s a question for another day. The second game of the second round will be played Thursday in Boston.

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