Fall from grace

197883.jpg

Fall from grace

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON We always joked about what might happen in Cleveland if LeBron decided to split.

And on Tuesday night, those jokes played out on the parquet.

Basically, every potential consequence of LeBron taking his contraction talks to South Beach has turned into a reality. Throw in a couple of tough injuries and a head coach who doesnt exactly have the best track record in the motivation department, and youve got disaster.

The Cavaliers' 17-point loss to the Celtics was their 18th in a row, and their 28th in the last 29 games; yet another brutal showing in a season thats grown so ugly that even Popeye Jones is offended.

And its only natural for Celtics fans to get at least a little satisfaction out of that.

After all, over the last three years, theres been an unbelievable amount of anger and animosity built up towards the orange and yellow (or whichever of their million uniform combos theyre wearing on a given night).

In the 2008 playoffs, the Cavs took the Cs to the brink of elimination and would have ended their season if not for a legendary performance by Paul Pierce and the genius of PJ Brown. In the two seasons that followed, the Cavs won a combined 127 regular-season games (the Cs only won 112) and twice finished the as the Easts No. 1 seed. At one point, they beat Boston eight straight times at the Q.

And over that time, whether or not it ever played out that way, the Cavs always felt like the biggest threat to the Celtics Eastern Conference supremacy. Other than the Lakers, who only popped up twice a year anyway, Cleveland was the Celtics' biggest rival.

And then, with one pathetic playoff series, followed by one pathetic TV special, the Cavs were dead.

In an instant, they became the team we all casually joked they would.

Now, theyve just become a joke.

For years, the CavsCeltics games were two of the best three home games of the seasons. They were the games that always gave off the biggest playoff vibe. They were the games that felt like they actually had playoff implications; where if you had tickets there was always that moment when you thought: You know, I could probably sell these for A LOT of money right now. You never did. But you knew it was a big deal that you were going.

But that was then. Now, you might have trouble giving away those Cavs tickets. Now its the kind of game that the Cs use as a tune-up for their long-injured starting center, where you see Luke Harangody in the first quarter, where you watch without ever worrying about the outcome.

Now, the Cavs are . . .

I dont know, who the hell are they?

Christian Eyenga? Samardo Samuels? Who knew Manny Harris was actually in the NBA?

Theyre the worst team in basketball.

And while that might not all be about LeBron (theyd be a little better with a healthy Anderson Varejao and a less-scorned Mo Williams), it doesnt change the reality. In less than six months, the Cleveland Cavaliers have gone from a 66-win, Finals favorite to a team thats on pace for 16 wins and enough ping-pong balls to make Forrest Gump all tingly (although maybe not anymore since hes got to be in his late 60s).

The Cavs were maybe the sharpest thorn in the Celtics side. Now theyre a withered old toothpick. And that should be reason to celebrate in Boston. After all, we've celebrated every Cleveland loss for the last three years. It's only natural to see that uniform, fall back into that mode, and maybe have some fun with this runaway dumpsters of a season.

But on closer inspection: It's impossible.

With the Cavs, the animosity's gone. The hatred's all been transferred to Miami. There's nothing else left, and in the end, you just feel bad.

It's not like you want the Cavs contending every season, but nobody deserves to go down the way they have.

Its like, imagine if your worst enemy just some guy you really hate went on The Bachelorette. Except for this season, the twist is that the Bacherloette was the guy's actual wife.

It was him, a bunch of other single guys, and his wife.

Totally embarrassing, but this guy loved his wife THAT much. He was willing to do anything, just to get her back.

Now imagine he goes through the whole thing, all the ups and downs, and makes it to the Final 2. Then on the last show, the wifebachelorette invites his entire family to the set, kneels down before him on national TV, and picks the other dude.

Admit it, youd feel bad.

And if not then, youd definitely feel bad when you ran into the guy six months later and learned that since the divorce hed been fired for appearing on the show, gained 50 pounds and now spends his lunch at Centerfold's All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

Now that's sad. Whoever it is.

And anyway, you start talking and realize that since his wife left, the guy's not even that big of a jerk. Turns out she was always the worst thing about him.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

newsletter-danny-ainge-061316.jpg

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter which was one of several hoaxes called into airports across the country on Saturday.

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”