Even in the worst sports movies, gauging a miracle is easy. You kind of already know what’s up when you buy the ticket, but allow yourself full-out hope only when that familiar swell of inspirational music hits the corny practice-and-training montage. Those two minutes of dawn runs and drinking raw eggs and FINALLY kicking the wood in half make it obvious: The good guys are going to pull the upset. In the NBA Eastern Conference finals, not so much. In fact, it’s difficult for me to even call the Cavaliers "bad guys" just because Cleveland is favore — wait, LeBron did what to Isaiah Thomas’s what?
OK, so Boston — even after pushing Game 1’s final score to an admirable 117–104 against Tyronn Lue’s D-team — left the loss looking defeated. (Not "We lost!" defeated, but "Shit, we have to do that again, and again, and again, don’t we?" defeated.) And no matter how joyful Tuesday’s lottery results were at the time, I’m guessing the buzz wore off the moment Isaiah stepped into LeBron’s lane on the dunk attempt. It was like a frozen screen: His face ill-placed, with that "I know what you’re thinking: How did I get here?" expression, and all of a sudden you remember: Oh right, that guy — and his nuts — will be in this conference for at least six more years. If you’re a believer in signs, it said, "Keep the pick, and plan for a Bron-less future."
Without this playing in the background, Boston’s season will end with death by broom. Were this a movie, it might be a promising sign that the Celtics start a 5-foot-9 dude. And offscreen, the real world of stats and analytics might give Boston a glimmer of hope. Of its 29 regular-season losses, 20 were followed with wins, and just nine led to losing streaks, never more than three in a row. Is the music humming yet? The Celtics have shot better in the final five minutes of close games than the Cavaliers have these playoffs, made more 3-pointers in that time, and produced the most shots of anyone during those clutch minutes.
Blowouts are the new black in these playoffs, but the Celtics need to manage an adaptation of what Cleveland tried with Golden State two years ago: Keep it close in hopes of a coin-toss ending. The Warriors pulled it out, as Finals MVP Andre Iguodala will tell you, but the series was chock-full of OTs and deciding final clips. Though even in that scenario in this series, the advantage is still Cleveland’s: The Cavaliers are 5–0 in postseason games that are within five with five minutes left, while Boston is 1–2. In fact, four of the Celtics’ six playoff losses echoed the blowout theme. Two Boston losses were decided by four or fewer points; the rest by an average of more than 18 points.
Thanks to too much Air Bud during my formative years, a tiny part of me always believes. But tonight is only Game 2, and it already feels like the credits are rolling. The sequel, at least, will star Markelle Fultz (or Gordon Hayward!).