The Boston Celtics have emerged from the seventh seed to the top Eastern team in two seasons, but the true progress will be judged on how they perform against the postseason Cleveland Cavaliers. Two years removed from a first round sweep, the Celtics will look to put up a genuine challenge for the champions, who have been largely unrivaled in the last month. The Cavaliers will look to take advance of the opponents physical and mental fatigue and jump the series the way they did with the last two opponents, but the Celtics are well equipped to sustain the pressure and have shown resiliency before. Two best Eastern teams match up in what seems to be a scintillating series.
#1 Boston Celtics vs. #2 Cleveland Cavaliers
Boston doesn’t have much ground to be positive about their chances after going 1-3 versus the Cavaliers during the regular season, with the sole win coming in a game when Kevin Love and J.R. Smith did not dress. In other three meetings, the Cavaliers scored at will, and have blown out the Celtics on April 5th in what was supposed to be a decisive win for the number one seed. The Celts wound up first, but the difference in maximum performance showcased in that game in Boston is surely going to loom.
Regular season results:
11/03/16 CLE 128 – BOS 122
12/29/17 CLE 124 – BOS 118
03/01/17 BOS 103 – CLE 99
04/05/17 BOS 91 – CLE 114
After the Cleveland Cavaliers were strong favorites to win the first two games in Ohio, ending up in a Boston cover and a push, teams have split the following two. So the Celtics managed to stay connected in all but the last game, but unfortunately for them, it’s not only the most recent game, but also the one that resembles current Cavaliers defensive effort. The last two games have been set up in the 220s for the total points play, leading to two unders. The first two obliterated the line.
The Celtics have earned the home court advantage, so the first two games will be played in Massachusetts. They only have a single day to rest thanks to the long series with the Wizards, but at least they won’t have to travel. With two sweeps in the first two rounds, the Cavaliers have played only 7 games in a full month. Meanwhile, Boston played 7 games in last two weeks. They were lucky enough to avoid any injuries though, so both teams will have all the best players at their head coaches’ disposal.
Playoff results and schedule:
Game 1 – CLE @ BOS (Wednesday 5/17/17, 8:30 PM ET – TNT)
Game 2 – CLE @ BOS (Friday 5/19/17, 8:30 PM ET – TNT )
Game 3 – BOS @ CLE (Sunday 5/21/17, 8:30 PM ET – TNT)
Game 4 – BOS @ CLE (Tuesday 5/23/17, 8:30 PM ET – TNT)
Game 5 – CLE @ BOS (Thursday 5/25/17, 8:30 PM ET – TNT, if needed)
Game 6 – BOS @ CLE (Saturday 5/27/17, 8:30 PM ET – TNT, if needed)
Game 7 – CLE @ BOS (Monday 5/29/17, 8:30 PM ET – TNT, if needed)
Celtics in the rear-view mirror
Few teams could have endured the path the Celtics took in these playoffs. They climbed from the 0-2 deficit against the Bulls after losing the first two games of the postseason at home and traded punches with the Wizards in a nerve-racking series that came down to the 7th game decider. It wasn’t pretty to the eye at times and it surely drained much energy from the players with the hardest challenges yet ahead. The concern that they won’t have enough to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers is therefore genuine. On the other hand, coach Stevens wouldn’t get caught up with overplaying their stars, adding just a couple of minutes on top of the seasonal average playing time, as he had the luxury of going deep in the rotation.
The bench came up big on few occasions, most notably in the Game 7 of the Semifinal series. Gerald Green stepped in vs. the Bulls for a couple of game, Olynyk scored a career high against the Wizards and Smart and Rozier were very solid in small lineups. However, the true engines of this team are Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. Thomas overcame a nightmare matchup series to average 25.4 points and 6.5 assists in the playoffs, while their most experienced player Horford played admirably the entire postseason to collect 16.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 5.8 apg on an incredible 64 percent shooting. His effective field goal percentage would rank top 15 all time in the playoffs if he keeps it.
After having a significant offensive role in the previous series, Jae Crowder will have to take on the hardest defensive task there is – stopping LeBron James. Unenviable task for sure, but the Celtics are lucky to have someone of his posture to guard the world’s best player. They’ll surely need to do much better job defensively than they did in the regular season against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They did a fair job against a very good offensive Washington team, but the Cavaliers pose a much larger threat both shooting and rebounding the ball. The Celtics should not fall in desperation and try to outscore the opposition, but work hard on the defensive end, keep the ball in front of them and clean up the glass with more regularity. It’s easier said than done for a team that has issues in all those categories, so it hard to imagine that the Celtics will have much say in the Finals despite being the higher seed.
Boston Celtics Betting Trends:
ATS Score: 49-44-2 overall, 9-4 playoffs
Over/under Score: 47-44-4 overall, 8-5 playoffs
Cavaliers in the rear-view mirror
The Cleveland Cavaliers proved to be the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference, wasting no time to eliminate first the Indiana Pacers and then the Toronto Raptors. They won all 8 postseason games so far, displaying some execution and nerve in the first round and dominating in the semifinal series. The defending champions looked as impressive as in the last year’s run, as LeBron James ignited all engines to advance to his 7th consecutive East Finals.
His otherworldly performance came against two teams that are almost specifically built to account for his presence, but he still managed to average 34.4 points on 55.7 percent shooting from the field, including 46.8 percent on the three ball. James played the transition, showcased full repertoire of dunks and layups and got to the line, while also dropping almost three triples per game.
James scored 275 points this postseason, and Irving and Love combined for 300. They need to step up their games if the Celtics find and way to slow down James. The Cavs have been playing deep with 4 players off the bench getting significant minutes, and at times Frye and Williams outplayed their starred teammates.
Cleveland Cavaliers Betting Trends:
ATS Score: 41-45-4 overall, 5-2-1 playoffs
Over/under Score: 53-36-1 overall, 6-2 playoffs
Matching them up
James did not turn time back a year, he is playing as if he’s in his prime. Never gets tired, plays with passion and precision and is unfazed by any defender the opposition has thrown at him. In the eight wins this postseason, he has put up stellar numbers. James averages 34.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game, converting shots at 55.7 percent clip. He rarely takes a possession off, keeping the pressure on the rivaling team and off of his teammates. He spearheaded the attack that scored 114.5 points per game this postseason, but the Cavaliers got more comfortable wins thanks to an improved defensive effort. Compared to the regular season, Cleveland gives up 2.4 points less. A part of the success has been excellent Tristan Thompson’s display on the inside, but also a devoted effort of J.R. Smith who did great job on DeRozan. The Celtics pose a different type of threat than the previous two opponents, as their two primary options on the offense throw the Cavaliers out of their comfort zones, but the defending champions should be able to counter it with some good help defense. The best defense for them in this series lies on the offensive side. As much as it sounds as a cliché, Boston is very vulnerable to offensive rebounding, and with Love and TT crashing the glass, the Cleveland Cavaliers should dominate the possession.
Still, they can’t put Smith or James on Thomas, and Horford plays too far from the rim for Thompson, so advantage Boston in terms of natural mismatches, as long as they don’t bail out the Cavs and play much Amir Johnson. The Cavs will look to hide Irving on Bradley on the defensive end as much as they can, so Thomas needs to be very aggressive and take on the stronger but slower defenders to penetrate the paint. Second units match ups favor the Cavaliers, as they are simply more talented and have much more fire power, so the Celtics can’t afford to start slowly the way they did for the most part of the Washington series.
Cleveland in 6. The Cleveland Cavaliers have shifted up a gear and are storming through this playoffs, so don’t read much into the seeding. I don’t think they will run over the Celtics in the same fashion like they did in the series against Toronto, but it’s hard to believe that the Celtics will take more than a couple of games. The Cavs have been shooting the lights out so far, so they might slip in Boston once or twice, but James’ teams don’t panic even when they trail in the series, so even if the blitzkrieg doesn’t work, they’ll still advance to the third consecutive NBA Finals.
LeBron James. There’s no one I’d rather pick in practically any playoffs series than James, and with all the excellent play he put up so far, the closer we are getting to the finish line, the better he’ll play. Crowder is not a significant obstacle and the Celtics don’t have anyone to offer a different look or to fill in if the primary defender gets into foul trouble, and James doesn’t go out of play much, so he’ll be able to pick the Celtics apart utilizing the mismatches that are going to be a-plenty.
Avery Bradley. If the Celtics are to have any chance of progressing, they’ll need to outwork and outplay players not named James, and it starts with the Bradley-Irving duel. Bradley needs to guard Irving well enough and long enough to frustrate him into many bad shots, but the Celtics are going to need him scoring the ball as well. He’s an underrated scorer so this might be his revelation.
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