CLEVELAND — As the Celtics and Cavaliers prepared to face each other on Thursday night, clean-up crews were still visible across the street at Progressive Field, completing one final sweep after the conclusion of one wild baseball season.
Last June, LeBron James and the Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit and stunned the 73-win Warriors en route to winning the franchise's first-ever NBA title. On Wednesday night here, James and many of his teammates sat in a box at Progressive Field as the hometown Indians were on the other end of history, coughing up their 3-1 series lead before losing the World Series to the Cubs in a frenetic seventh game.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue preferred to compare the loss to his team's 2015 Finals loss, when it surrendered a 2-1 series lead and was without two of its star players, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. The Indians made it to the final game of the season despite significant injuries, too.
"It says a lot about that team and [former Red Sox manager Terry Francona] as a manager," Lue said before the Cavaliers defeated the Celtics, 128-122. "It was tough, but you have to take your hats off to those guys for the way they played and battled, beat the odds, won in the first round and kept winning."
The Celtics' plane to Cleveland departed late Wednesday night, just as the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 7 was beginning. Stevens said he had never seen his players pay such close attention to a baseball game, but they were in the air and unplugged when the Cubs secured the final out and won the series.
Stevens is a longtime Cubs fan and his wife, Tracy, is from Cleveland, so the family was somewhat conflicted.
"Regardless, it would have been pretty special to see either team win, because of the historical significance of not having won it in a long time," Stevens said.
Brown gets start
With forward Jae Crowder sidelined with a sprained ankle, rookie Jaylen Brown on Thursday drew his first career start, collecting 19 points and five rebounds. It was quite a way to make a debut, on the road on national television against the defending world champions, with a defensive assignment that included guarding James.
"LeBron's the best player in the world right now," Brown said. "So if I want to ever get to that level, you've got to go through him."
Stevens understood Brown's promotion would garner attention, but he insisted that he chose Brown primarily because he wanted third-year guard Marcus Smart, a tenacious defender, to be the anchor of the Celtics' second unit.
"I think the obvious thought here is that Jae's out," Stevens said, "and we're going to need to manage our lineups appropriately."
Stevens told Brown that he would receive more playing time with Crowder sidelined, and that he would just have to stay ready, stay aggressive and establish himself early in games.
When the Celtics faced Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks during the preseason, Brown referred to it as his welcome-to-the-NBA moment. But now, he insisted, he is no longer star-struck.
"I think I got all of that stuff out in the preseason," Brown said. "Now the season's here. I'm ready to play basketball, be a competitor."
Crowder, meanwhile, remained in Boston receiving medical treatment after spraining his left ankle in the first half of the Celtics' win over the Bulls on Wednesday. Stevens said that the forward was "doing much better" on Thursday, but he added that he will probably be sidelined for two weeks.
Forward Al Horford, who suffered a concussion during practice on Monday, did not travel to Cleveland, either. Stevens said he exchanged text messages with Horford on Thursday and that the four-time All-Star felt a little bit better, but Stevens did not have an update on a possible return.
Finally, Stevens said that forward Kelly Olynyk, who continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery, has made progress.
"Kelly's going to just continue his process," Stevens said. "He should be right around the corner, available soon."