BOSTON -- Everyone understands that the Cleveland Cavaliers have more superstar talent than the Boston Celtics, but what truly sets them apart is their ability to do the little things, like create and convert second chance opportunities.
Tristan Thompson seized two offensive boards in the final 2:18 of Game 3, which led to two three-pointers by Kevin Love and gave the Cavaliers a comfortable cushion in their 103-95 win to go up 3-0 in the series.
On the national stage of the NBA Playoffs the Celtics are forgetting about what got them here: the little things, like boxing out for rebounds and making the extra pass. But those actions are anything but little; they are crucially important to the success of a team.
"We have to play better basketball. We have to play better on both ends," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after the game. "I told the guys in [the locker room] this line, and I don't know who originally said it: ‘When considering the consequences of not doing the little things, you realize there are no little things.' That applies to us right now."
The Celtics trailed by five with a tick under one minute remaining in the fourth quarter when LeBron James bricked a shot off the backside of the rim, but Tyler Zeller failed to box out Thompson and he expectedly skied over everyone to grab the ball at its apex.
Thompson earned the Cavs a second try, which resulted in 24 seconds ran off the shot clock and the dagger triple by Love.
"Tristan is an energy guy. He's been playing like that since I‘ve known him," said Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley, who played with Thompson in high school. "He's the reason why they beat us the last two games, honestly. He's just outworking us. We know what he's gonna do and we're not stopping him; it's frustrating for everyone."
Thompson is an athletic player, with a long wingspan and bouncy vertical, but he's an incredible rebounder because of his effort, not just his athleticism. The Celtics need to match that intensity, and so far this series they haven't, as he continues to make play after play to set the Cavaliers apart.
Boston is having trouble finishing possessions on the defensive end, and they're also not moving the ball on offense as efficiently.
The Celtics averaged 5.7 secondary assists per game, according to SportVU, but they only had two on Thursday against the Cavaliers. Despite the coaching staff preaching for steady ball movement, it's not happening at the rate it usually does.
"We're trying to make the homerun play, one pass to a shot, when we should move the ball," Bradley said. "Our strength is moving the ball and getting it in everyone's hands, and getting easy shots. You saw when that happened that we get everything we wanted. That's really it. I'm pretty sure Brad said the same thing, because it's just beautiful basketball."
Bradley said the prime example of how the ball needs to move came in the third quarter when Marcus Smart pump-faked and penetrated the paint to draw the attention of four defenders, so he kicked the ball out to a wide-open Jae Crowder for three.
The ball went from the middle to the left and finally to the right, all in the matter of seconds, which is what the Celtics need to do on nearly every possession against Cleveland's aggressive defense.
If they don't start doing that, then this series will be over on Sunday.
Studs like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love have all played a significant role in burying the Boston Celtics in a deep hole, but it's the little things their team is doing and the little things the Celtics aren't doing that is ultimately making the difference in this series.