Celtics

Bedard: Celtics’ young guns lap LeBron, Cavs now but will they when it counts?

(David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

Well, that was anticlimactic.

The Celtics were tremendous in Wednesday night's 102-88 victory over the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions from Cleveland at TD Garden. That needs to be said, first and foremost.

The Celtics made the Cavs look old. They were quicker, more athletic, and obviously just wanted to win more than the Cavs, who have spent the better part of this season looking disinterested between bouts of good play.

A possible changing of the guard in the East? Could be, down the road. But no one can say that now. Maybe come Feb. 11, when the two teams meet for the final time the regular season (a week after a possible sixth Super Bowl title for the Patriots, by the way).

These were not the Cavs the Celtics will face in a month, nor did this represent the postseason Cavs.

"I don’t know who we are or what we can be until we get I.T. back, consistently," LeBron James said. "But we know what the program is, so it’s not like it was surprising he wasn't playing tonight.

"Until we get a full dose of I.T. and get our rotations down... We were playing well. Tristan (Thompson) came back, we integrated him, we haven't been playing as well of late, so we’re trying to figure that out as well."

So the Cavs weren't exactly ready for the postseason. But does that mean we can't take anything from this game?

Hardly.

It's not like the Celtics' biggest guns were hitting on all cylinders. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford combined for 22 points. There's little chance of the Celtics unseating the Cavs in the East if that happens more than a few times in a seven-game series.

The Celtics' bench ran laps around the Cavs while scoring 47 points, led by Terry Rozier's 20 points, and Marcus Smart's 15. Add in Jayson Tatum's 15 and Jaylen Brown's 14, and the Celtics were led by a young, hungry and dynamic quartet.

Quite a departure from how they looked in the first game of the season, huh LeBron?

"(It was) Game 1, everybody looks different at this point in the season, so it’s not surprising," his Kingness said.

"Listen, they played at a high-level tonight and they’ve played extremely well at home and on the road at times as well. They have us a good one tonight. ... Their defense was very good. They were very intuned to what we wanted to do execution-wise offensively. We had some good looks at times, others were a little bit tougher. They had a good defensive plan and they executed very well."

On the other side, LeBron tried his best to will his team to a victory with 16 first-half points. But the rest of the team looked broken down and wheezing as Kevin Love finished with an ankle injury, and Jae Crowder and Dwayne Wade looked like they needed a rest. Meanwhile, Isaiah Thomas watched from the sideline in the second game of his comeback from a hip injury.

There's more than a slight chance that happens down the stretch as well. The Cavs aren't getting any younger, and the Celtics seem to be getting better with every experience they encounter.

What we do know is that the East is suddenly a lot more interesting. And don't think LeBron isn't keeping a close eye while his team idles for repairs.

"Absolutely. Always, Why not?" James said. "I’m always concerned about teams getting better and better. But I’m more concerned about us getting better and better. That’s the bigger thing. With Washington and this team right here... Miami’s trying to get better and better. Toronto is playing exceptional basketball right now. The East is pretty damn good this year.

Right now, we’re not so good ... great ... not so good ... (we'll) see what happens next. But you always have to be concerned with the competition, for sure."

Did these Celtics show that they're more of a threat last night?

"I think they were a threat last year but (Thomas') injury affected them a lot," James said.

James knows as well as anyone how much things have changed since the Cavs dismissed the Celtics in five games last May. Wednesday night only reinforced that.

But will it ultimately matter when it counts? We got no answer on that, but we'll have a better idea next month.