Celtics Challenge Cavaliers’ Dominance

Jhair Romero, Sports Editor

The 2017-2018 NBA season is just getting started, and the Boston Celtics have become clear contenders as the Cleveland Cavaliers show signs of deterioration.

The Cavaliers have been dominating the Eastern Conference for the past three seasons, but this Celtics team has been their first serious challenge since LeBron James returned to the Cavs in 2014.

The new-look Celtics are in first place in the East, three spots ahead of the Cavaliers. Despite losing their newly acquired star Gordon Hayward to a gruesome leg injury, they are still in control of their conference. This is because Kyrie Irving, a former Cavalier, has been lighting up the league this season, averaging 22.8 points and 5.3 assists per game.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the trade that sent Irving to Boston. Irving was a star in Cleveland and requested a trade from the Cavaliers. The trade gave the Cavs, Celtics star point guard, Isaiah Thomas, yet lost a major piece of their championship team.

The Cavaliers’ performance so far has been sub-par compared to their last three years. Their offense has been consistent, but their defense gives up way too many points against bad teams. In their loss to the Indiana Pacers, they put up 107 points, but they let a team that they swept in the first round of the playoffs just last year score 124 points on them. This is the Pacers team that traded their former franchise player, Paul George, to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The future is looking grim for them if they cannot step up their play.

The Cavaliers also have a lack of depth. They have players like Dwayne Wade and Kyle Korver, but they don’t put up the numbers. Korver was one of the best shooters in the league just a couple of years ago in Atlanta, but only averages 10.5 PPG in Cleveland. Their weak bench creates a dangerous habit of James having to score 50+ points just to win a game. He did this just a couple weeks ago against the Milwaukee Bucks on November 7.

The Celtics, on the other hand, have been excelling off the bench. Point guard Marcus Smart is averaging 5.4 assists per game, providing steady relief for the starters. Smart has become a role player on this team for that reason. He’s a true sixth man and an essential piece to this Boston team.

One of the biggest advantages the Celtics also have is their coaching. Head coach Brad Stevens has been able to implement a system that helps their bench shine. This coaching system has proved efficient for this young Celtics team. Stevens has his been able to make up for the injuries the team has suffered with his phenomenal coaching. He even has legendary coaches commending his NBA successes.

In an interview after a game, legendary San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich praised Stevens for his character and attitude.

“He’s very intelligent, and intelligence is fine, but if it doesn’t come along with incisiveness, judgment and an emotional maturity, it doesn’t do you much good,” Popovic said. “And he has all of those things. And that’s large. Not that many people have that. It shows in the way he handles people and the way he coaches. He’s going to be a great one before it’s all over with. And he’s already a hell of a coach.”

Since 2014, the Cavaliers have swept six of the nine teams they’ve faced in the Eastern Playoffs. They dominated the weaker of the two conferences, winning three consecutive Eastern Conference Championships. However, with the East becoming a bigger and bigger challenge for the Cavaliers, there might not be a fourth consecutive Finals appearance for them.

In an interview with ESPN.com, the veteran Wade said that things were different than his time with the Miami Heat, and that the Cavaliers must resolve their issues quickly before it is too late.

“One thing I did notice at Miami, teams were afraid of us a little bit. Ain’t nobody afraid. Maybe at some point it will get there, but not right now. Everyone’s playing free, it’s early in the year, and everything’s going right for everybody but us. And we’ve got to figure it out,” Wade said.

The season is young, but so far, Wade is right. The Celtics are already a scary team with just a little over a month in. After beginning the season at 0-2, Boston went on a 16-game winning streak. The Cavaliers always seem to show up during the postseason, but with such a rough start it is hard to tell if they can bounce back from their troubles in the long run.

With Boston creeping in on their reign in the East, it looks like King James and the Cavs might soon be toppled from the top of the basketball throne.