BOSTON – After the Cleveland Cavaliers lost 107-94 on Tuesday to fall down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference finals, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that Boston is “gooning the game up.”
The Celtics didn’t seem to have any problem with the characterization.
“I don’t even know what to say to that,” said Jaylen Brown. “I agree, I guess.”
“Gooning? That’s a good word,” added Boston forward Marcus Morris. “S—, we’re doing what it takes. Whatever it takes, every player 1-15, whatever it takes, that’s what we’re doing. You call it what you want to call it. We’re just trying to get the win.”
Coincidentally, “Whatever It Takes,” just so happens to be Cleveland’s official playoff slogan but the Cavs appear to have run into an opponent that embodies those words more – at least at the moment.
“”I mean, we just play hard,” said the Celtics’ Al Horford. “We go out there, we compete. It’s Celtics basketball. We’re really embracing Celtics basketball. We’re playing hard. We’ve got each other’s backs, and that’s it.”
It was the Cavs that crossed the line from playing hard to playing dangerous when Smith shoved an already-airborne Horford in the back with 3:37 remaining in the fourth quarter, resulting in a flagrant-1 foul on Smith following an officials review.
“It was a good call,” Smith said. “I blatantly pushed him. It wasn’t like I was trying to lowbridge him or something to make sure he didn’t get it. It was a good, hard foul. I can understand why they gave me a flagrant.”
After the shove, Marcus Smart got in Smith’s face, causing Smith to push the Celtics guard away and leading to double technicals being called on both players. “Oh, man, we’re out there to play basketball,” Smart said. “You know, and I just looked at it, Al is a defenseless person. He’s in the air. He can’t control how his body goes, and he’s not even looking, and you go and take two hands to the back, that’s a dirty shot. You just can’t allow that to keep happening.”
Smith has a history of run-ins with the Celtics in the playoffs. In Game 4 of the first round in 2015, Smith was called for a flagrant-2 foul for striking then Boston forward Jae Crowder in the face. Smith was levied a two-game suspension for the act.
“That’s not the first time JR has done some dirty stuff, especially playing against us,” Smart said. “He’s known for it, especially playing against us. We know that. So you know, it’s like a bully, you keep letting a bully keep picking on you, he’s going to pick on you until you finally stand up, and that’s what I tried to do. One of my guys was down, and I took offense to it.”
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Horford said that, if anything, Smith’s infraction only focused the Celtics as a team more.
“I felt like it was uncalled for, that type of play there, but that’s the one thing about the group of our guys,” he said. “We have each other’s backs, and it is what it is. We moved on to the next play, and we just locked in even more after that.”
While the referees were consulting the replay monitor, the TD Garden crowd broke out into a loud, “F— You JR!” chant.
“I love it,” Smith, who shot 0-for-7 for the game, said of the jeers. “I don’t want the opposing fans to like me. That’s not why I’m here. They can chant and scream all they want, it actually makes me feel better about myself. They know me.”
The Celtics did engage in some extra-curricular activities after Tristan Thompson fouled Morris in the third quarter and Morris screamed in Thompson’s face while both forwards were still on the floor, which led the two needing to be separated.
“Does it matter?” Thompson asked, responding to a question wondering what Morris said. “I’m not a Chatty Patty, so you’re going to have to ask him that. That s— don’t matter to me.”
What did matter to Thompson was how Cleveland responded to Boston’s physicality overall. “They’re going to play physical,” Thompson said. “They got to. That gets them going, and they’ve got players that are gritty players that play hard. That’s their edge, that’s what they bring to the table. Guys got to be ready for that. And if you’re not ready then you can’t play.”
While Smith didn’t use any verbiage like “gooning” to describe the Celtics, he said he expected the conference finals to be hard fought.
“We knew they were a young, extremely scrappy team,” Smith said. “We watched previous series and how they played, they played hard all the time, extremely well-coached. Surprised? No, I’m not surprised at all. They play hard.”
Now the Cavs have to bring the fight to Game 3 at home on Saturday.
“We’ve got to be tougher, mentally and physically,” Lue said. “We’ve got to come out swinging. We’ve got to be aggressive. I think we’ve got to be physical, and we’ve got to have a physical mindset, you know, that they’re coming in, playing tough. They’re aggressive, and we’ve got to match that.”