• The much anticipated second matchup between the Cavaliers vs. Celtics did not provide many answers in brewing rivalry.
By Jeremy Woo
January 03, 2018

The Cavaliers and Celtics met on Wednesday night, and that was about it. Sparks by and large refused to fly as Kyrie Irving hosted LeBron James and his former team in Boston. The Celtics cleaned up 102–88 as the Cavaliers gave lethargic effort essentially rail to rail. It’s fun to talk about beef and passive-aggressiveness and what not, but between this one and the season-opening Cleveland win in which Gordon Hayward broke his ankle, there simply hasn’t been much to write home about. 

This could have been Isaiah Thomas’s homecoming, but it wasn’t—he rested. Jae Crowder (who shot two of 12) got a short pregame video tribute, for whatever that’s worth. Kevin Love (who shot 1–11) appeared to hurt his ankle and sat most of the second half. LeBron was the only Cavalier who had it working on some competent level: at halftime he’d made 7 of 9 shots, while the rest of the Cavs had made nine of 35. Even he spent some time going through the motions. 

There was a brief moment midway through the third quarter where James went out of his way to goaltend a haphazard Kyrie floater after a foul and sent Irving tumbling toward the baseline, although nothing actually came of it except for a continuation call. Otherwise, the Celtics’ top-ranked defense took care of business, and Boston pulled away early in the second half. James finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists while Irving had just 11 points (on an ugly 5–14 night) to go with nine boards and six dimes of his own. The individuals mattered less than the discrepancy in apparent care between their sides.

No, the regular season doesn’t matter that much, but it’s fair to acknowledge an off night and still pay respect to the Celtics, who continue on course for the East’s top seed. It’s just that Cleveland will still have LeBron in the playoffs (god forbid). There’s a reasonable chance we get to see this head-to-head with something on the line, and nobody would complain. It’s increasingly noticeable, after all, that the Celtics indeed match up well with the Cavs.

It might or might not matter in the playoffs, but the theory will be pertinent until disproven. When the Cavs are at full strength we’ll revisit it, but the Celtics’ wealth of versatile defenders and athletic scorers are no joke. Boston has younger legs and longer limbs, but far less experience. It’s rare that almost every Cleveland supporting player will throw up a dud. Still, you have to think they should be able to hang when their opponents inevitably decide to turn things on.

We’ll get a rematch on February 11 back in Boston, presumably Thomas’s return, and seven games in the spring if we’re lucky. And hey, if two stellar teams can pace their way through seasons like clockwork, so can observers as they temper their takes. Please?

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