SI:AM | Another Game 2 Stinker for the Celtics

This loss is more concerning than the game they dropped against the Heat.
Boston Celtics guard Jaden Springer drives the ball in Game 2 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Boston Celtics guard Jaden Springer drives the ball in Game 2 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I’m very curious to see how the New York Knicks fare in Indiana in Game 3 without OG Anunoby

In today’s SI:AM: 

☘️ Celtics fall flat

🏒 Ranking potential Utah NHL names
🎲 A silly bet between teammates

All tied up 

In some ways, Game 2 of the Boston Celtics’ second-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers looked a lot like the second game of their first-round series against the Miami Heat, as the Celtics struggled to knock down shots Thursday and lost the game to even the series at a game apiece. 

In other ways, Thursday night’s game was a more troubling result than the game Boston dropped against the Heat two weeks ago. For one thing, the Celtics at least kept it close in that loss to Miami (falling 111–101), while they got completely blown out against the Cavs, 118–94. But also, dropping that game against the Heat always felt like the flukey result of a vast disparity in three-point shooting. The loss to the Cavs, on the other hand, should be more concerning. 

Boston is currently playing without starting center Kristaps Porziņģis, who injured his calf muscle in Game 4 against the Heat. The Celtics felt no ill effects from his absence in their series-clinching win in Game 5 of that series and their Game 1 win over the Cavs (which they won by a combined 59 points), but Boston would have benefited from his presence inside in Game 2. The Celtics got out-rebounded 44–31 in the game and allowed 60 points in the paint. 

Porziņģis’s injury places additional emphasis on the Celtics’ backcourt to lead the way offensively, but they couldn’t buy a shot Thursday. Boston shot a dismal 8-for-35 (22.9%) from three in the loss, its second-worst three-point shooting night of the season. The Celtics surely won’t struggle that badly from three for the rest of the series, but the cold shooting wasn’t their only problem. They also allowed Cleveland to score too many easy baskets. 

The Cavs are dealing with their own significant frontcourt absence, as Jarrett Allen missed his fifth straight game with a bruised rib. But Evan Mobley, who slid from power forward to center in the starting lineup with Allen out, has flourished early in the series. He had 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 13 rebounds in Game 1 and 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting with 10 rebounds in Game 2. Only four of the 27 shots Mobley attempted in the first two games of the series have come outside the paint. The Celtics could be in bigger trouble if Allen is able to return to the floor before Porziņģis. No team in the NBA took more shots inside of three feet this season than the Cavaliers (27.6% of all their field goal attempts), and Allen was a major reason why. He took 55.4% of his shots this season from inside three feet, the 18th most in the NBA, and scored a career-best 16.5 points per game. 

The key for the Cavs once again, though, was Donovan Mitchell. He was quiet in the first half, scoring just six points as the game headed into halftime tied at 54, but scored 23 in the second half on just 13 shots. He scored as many points in the second half as the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Derrick White combined. Mitchell has been the best player on either team in this series, averaging 31.5 points per game. The advantage the Celtics have is that they have two elite scoring options in Tatum and Brown, but Mitchell is still the sort of player capable of taking over a game. He’s averaging 37.8 points per game over his last four. As long as he stays hot and Boston struggles to contain Mobley down low—along with Darius Garland getting back into a shooting rhythm—Cleveland is set up well to make this a competitive series. 

The best of Sports Illustrated

The top five…

… things I saw last night: 

5. Caitlin Clark’s drive through the heart of the Atlanta Dream defense for an and-one in her preseason home debut. 

4. The Oklahoma City Thunder fan who hit a half-court shot to win $20,000. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the third time this postseason that a Thunder fan has won the prize. 

3. Aaron Judge’s 473-foot home run. That’s the third-longest of his career and tied for the longest in the majors this season (with Mike Trout). 

2. Andrei Svechnikov’s late goal to force overtime against the New York Rangers.

1. Artemi Panarin’s impressive redirection for the game-winning goal in overtime.


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Dan Gartland

DAN GARTLAND

Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).