Reimer: Celtics have erased LeBron James' allure

Alex Reimer
May 17, 2018 - 2:37 pm
LeBron James

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

On “Dale & Keefe” Wednesday, my pariah-in-crime John Tomase said he would rather have Al Horford on the Celtics than LeBron James. As of five days ago, I would’ve bursted out laughing at the suggestion. 

But after watching James get stifled in Game 1 and turn passive in Game 2 –– he scored 21 points in the first quarter and then 21 during the remaining three –– my thinking has changed. If LeBron came here, he would screw everything up. 

This is a crazy hypothetical, of course. There’s a better chance Michael Avenatti stops appearing on CNN than Danny Ainge calls James when he opts out of his contract with the Cavaliers this summer. But the recognition that James wouldn’t fit on the Celtics is indicative of how they’ve altered the layman’s perspective of basketball with their incredible playoff run. The best player does not always win, and sometimes, the most important advantage is standing in the coach’s box. 

Brad Stevens’ brilliance against Ty Lue’s ineptness is the biggest mismatch of the series. Stevens has shown it is possible for smart schemes to make up for on-court talent deficiencies. That doesn’t take anything away from Horford’s awesomeness or Jayson Tatum’s ascendence to superstardom. The Celtics are a better team than most give them credit for. 

But they are giving playoff minutes to Greg Monroe and Semi Ojeleye. Stevens is the x-factor here. It’s unlikely Terry Rozier would be filling in for Kyrie Irving so aptly if Ty Lue were calling his plays.

The Celtics have figured out a formula to contain James. They constantly throw bodies at him, ranging from Marcus Morris to Marcus Smart. So far this series, Morris has held James to 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 56 plays.

After James’ putrid Game 1 performance, in which he finished at minus-32, it was inevitable he would explode at the next opportunity. Sure enough, he came out firing Tuesday, hitting ridiculous jump shots and controlling the first 12 minutes of play.

Instead of wilting, the Celtics kept pressing. The first half ended with Smart swiping the ball from James before he crossed half court, and then rifling it down to Morris for a slam dunk. In the third quarter, the Celtics outscored the Cavs 36-22, and James was on the floor for every second. By the fourth period, James watched Jaylen Brown put back an offensive board without bothering to swarm the ball. 

There’s no way Tatum or Brown would have developed this swiftly with James dribbling the air out of the ball on each possession. They work much better with the offense flowing through Horford, who’s maybe the best-passing big man in the game. 

This summer, the entire league may not line up to woo James. The Sixers, for one, would probably be better off without him. It’s hard to imagine Ben Simmons succeeding if he’s tasked with standing around the perimeter on offense.

The Cavs look tired, unmotivated and lethargic. Maybe they’re just going through the organizational fatigue that affects all of LeBron’s teams, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst notes. But also, as we watch the Celtics, Warriors and Rockets all base their offenses around dizzying ball movement, the style of four guys standing around one superstar seems outdated.

This isn’t meant to be a takedown of LeBron. He would surely look better with a more talented, or even competent, supporting cast. 

But the allure is gone. The Celtics have shown they’re not afraid of him. The King can be beaten. 

Comments ()