Time for the Celtics to put up or … go home.
Remember, coming into this NBA season, Brad Stevens’ guys were the favorites to go to the NBA Finals. LeBron James had gone west and the Celtics were supposed to finally get over that hump.
There have all kinds of injuries. There has been all kinds of inconsistency. They’re healthy now, so it’s time for them to perform well as they head into the second round against Milwaukee, the Greek Freak-led team that wound up with the NBA’s best record.
The C’s do not have home-court advantage, but it’s time to put up or shut up.
Know this: The Bucks are very good. They hope to get Malcolm Brogdon back during the series, but he’s out for at least the first two games.
And then there’s that Freak fella.
Giannis Sina Ougko Antetokounmpo otherwise known as the Greek Freak, is an incredible athlete who appears to be adding an outside shot to his game. He’s trouble, and he has help. Brook Lopez has provided a big body in the middle.
“I just think he’s had a great year defensively; protecting the paint, protecting the rim,” said Stevens. “They send him back. He’s usually back in transition. He’s usually there to protect (the rim) early. They make you earn everything.”
Antetokounmpo struggled in the seventh game of last year’s series against the Celtics, going 7-for-17 from the floor and posting a minus-16. But he and James Harden are going to be 1-2 (in some order) in this year’s MVP voting.
On the line
The Celtics and Bruins are on to their second rounds as they look to keep this Boston parade thing going. The Bruins have as good a chance as anyone to win the Stanley Cup, while getting out of the east seems like a more-realistic goal for the Celtics.
But the winning around these parts just keep on going and going.
From Boston Sports Info via Twitter: “BOSTON SLAM IS ALIVE; And for the 1st time in the city’s history each team won at least 1 playoff round in the same year and Boston has won 8 STRAIGHT ROUNDS; ALDS- WIN; ALCS- WIN; World Series- WIN; AFC Div- WIN; AFC Champ- WIN; Super Bowl- WIN; NBA EC 1st Rd- WIN; NHL EC 1st Rd- WIN”
From ESPN hockey writer Greg Wyshynski: “Congrats to the Bruins and to all the Boston sports fans who had to endure literally hours of not having won something of significance in sports. #ThoughtsAndPrayers.”
The Bruins began their second round against the Blue Jackets Thursday night — after Tuukka Rask took a major step in shedding his image of not being THE GUY when it matters.
I was walking out of a concert last week and a guy I didn’t know was talking about the B’s, saying, “I’m always waiting for Tuukka to give up that one big goal. If it’s 3-0, Tuukka makes all the saves, but when the game’s on the line …”
The Maple Leafs will be quick to disagree after their one-time draft pick slammed the door on them in Game 7.
Former Bruins goalie Andrew Raycroft, now with NESN, posted after the finale, “No more Tuukka can’t win talk. Period. That was all him for 2 periods. Completely outplayed (Frederik) Andersen when it mattered most.”
The Bruins’ third seven-game series win over the Leafs in seven years was a part of a wacky first round of the NHL playoffs, with ALL FOUR division winners going down to defeat. The Lightning and Flames both lost, winning one game between them, and that left the Bruins with home ice all the way through as long as they keep winning.
Wacky? MSG Network’s John Giannone posts: “All four division winners: Gone in one round. Seven of top 10 regular-season teams: Gone in one round. Based on overall standings, your 2nd round matchups are 3 vs 13, 5 vs 11, 12 vs 15 and 6 vs 17 (yes, Avs were 17th). Stanley Cup Playoffs are an unrivaled sports passion play.”
An old friend
A day before the Bruins’ Game 7 against Toronto, Stan Fischler, the Maven of hockey who helped kick off my career, posted the following on Twitter:
“Home ice will be either an advantage or disadvantage for the @NHLBruins tomorrow night; depending on the game’s result. Me? I would not for a moment sell the @MapleLeafs short because (Mike) Babcock can out-coach (Bruce) Cassidy on any given night, including Tuesday. We shall see!”
I answered that we shouldn’t sell Cassidy short and wondered how much winning Babcock had done lately.
The Bruins, as you know, won and the Maven tweeted: “Congratulations to the @NHLBruins on their stirring 7th game win. Ditto to my Boston buddy, #MikeShalin for straightening me out regarding coach #BruceCassidy’s value behind the bench. His orchestration helped win the game. Good for Bruce and Mike.”
By the way, the Bruins are now the all-time leaders in Game 7 victories, breaking a three-way tie with the Canadiens and Red Wings with their 15th. Now, one would think all six of the originals would be up there but the Blackhawks are not on a list that has the Blues at No. 8 (eight of them), according to Hockey Reference.
Jackets coach John Tortarella on his less-experienced playoff team facing the Bruins: “Yeah, I think it’s overrated. And I’m not saying that because I have an inexperienced team. I just … I wonder, and I’m not saying I’m right or wrong, but I wonder … innocence vs. experience. What is the pressure? How do people handle the pressure?”
… Did anyone think the Red Sox starters would have three victories in the first 25 games? Eduardo Rodriguez has two of those wins. From Thursday’s pre-game notes: “In their first 13 games of the season, Red Sox starting pitchers were 0-8 with an 8.79 ERA (57 ER/58.1 IP)... In the 12 games since, they have posted a 3.34 ERA (23 ER/62.0 IP) with a .226 opponent AVG.”
…Aside from Toronto, John Tavares met with four teams last summer. The other four — the Bruins, Islanders, Stars and Sharks — are still playing. Tavares is not.
…The lineup the Yankees had around the field Monday night in Anaheim featured one player (Brett Gardner) who was in the major leagues a year earlier on that date.
…The NHL’s policy of starting the next round of the playoffs with just one day in between is more than absurd. The Hurricanes needed double overtime to oust the Capitals Wednesday night and then had to go directly in New York for Friday night’s opener against the Islanders, just as the Bruins had one day in between Toronto and Columbus. It’s the anti-NBA, which had the Celtics and Bucks sitting around all week.
… Despite Mookie Betts’ slow start at the plate, @SoxNotes told us earlier this week: “Highest batting average since the start of 2018: 1. Betts, .331; 2. J.D. Martinez, .330; 3. Christian Yelich, .326; 4. Anthony Rendon, .316; 5. Mike Trout, .3127; 6. Jose Altuve, .3125 — minumum 400 PA.”
… Are hockey players tough? Toronto’s Zach Hyman suffered a torn ACL during the series and kept playing. Surgery will now have him down six months.
… Finally, the pain continues for the Maple Leafs, who last won the Cup in 1967. Asked how he felt after the Game 7 loss in Boston, Mitch Marner said, “It’s the same (bleep) feeling as last year.”
Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.