Chippy (adj.) – touchy and defensive, especially on account of having a grievance or a sense of inferiority.
Find me a word which could more appropriately describe how the Boston Celtics will be feeling coming into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals tomorrow night?
After getting taken to the woodshed by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1, you know inferiority is definitely something Boston is dealing with today. Despite holding the top seed in the east, despite owning home court advantage, despite point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ incredible play throughout the year, there were only about four and a half minutes of competitive basketball to be found last night. The Cavs turned the opening game into a cake-walk, exploiting obvious match-up problems en route to a 117-104 victory which looks far closer on paper than it was in reality.
The home-court advantage Boston fought so hard to achieve was erased in the span of 48 minutes, putting Cleveland in the driver’s seat for the rest of the series. It’s certainly an advantageous place to be, yet the team should hardly let its guard down. The Celtics will undoubtedly try and bounce back, and this attempt to counter will likely involve extra physical play. Though the Cavs established their dominance last night, Boston’s surely impending attempt to get aggressive is something they need to be wary of.
Yes, Cleveland revealed all the Celtics’ shortcomings in alarmingly relaxed fashion. Boston had no one who could even slow down LeBron James, much less stop him. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson had no trouble taking advantage of the Celtics’ rebounding issues. All a third quarter Boston rally did was bring the deficit to a slightly more respectable 17 points.
This outright owning is no doubt still resonating with the players in Boston’s locker room. Knowing these same problems will still be present for the remainder of the series, the players will likely start to get desperate. From this desperation may come a feeling that the only way to stop Cleveland is to get overly physical.
The Cavs may not be taking Boston very seriously after a win like last night’s, but they definitely need to be ready for things to get more aggressive from here on out.
One member of the team – Love – is already well aware of how physical the Celtics can get, as he suffered a dislocated shoulder at the hands of Kelly Olynyk when these teams met in the 2015 playoffs. At the time he insisted the offense was intentional, so it’s tough to believe he’s not a little on-edge in this series.
However, we already saw a few examples of Boston trying to get aggressive as things got out of hand last night.
Forward Marcus Smart attempted to get in the face of Thompson, with Thomas doing the same soon after this. Cleveland’s rebounding extraordinaire kept his composure as the Celtics kept trying to get him agitated, but he and the rest of his team should expect more of the same as this series drags on.
The further Boston gets painted into a corner, the more the team will try to fight back. If the Cavs let this get to them, not only will it potentially deter the flow of the game, it also increases the risk of injuries.
Right now, Cleveland losing a key player seems to be the only scenario in which the Celtics could claw their way back into this series. Though they’re unlikely to pencil “take someone out” into their game plan, things will escalate quickly if they take the court looking to be agitators.
As a result, the Cavs need to be prepared for things getting heated. They appeared ready last night as they shrugged off Boston’s trash-talking, but this task gets more difficult if the level of aggression increases.
At the end of the day, Cleveland’s overall goal remains the same – get out of this series as quickly as possible without any devastating injuries. In order to do this, the team has to be ready for the Celtics getting hostile and do whatever it can to prevent such a situation from affecting the outcome.
For all intents and purposes, this series is now the Cavs’ to lose. They can’t afford to stumble along the way because they weren’t prepared for things to get chippy.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook