For the second straight year, the Cleveland Cavaliers will play the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. In similar fashion, the Celtics are playing without star players due to injury. Last year the Celtics had the unfortunate as then point guard Isaiah Thomas was not fully healthy and eventually missed the last few games of last year’s series.
Fast forward to a year later and the Celtics have arrived again to the conference finals without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward in the entire postseason. In all the scenarios that could play out, Kyrie Irving can either see his former team head to the NBA Finals without him but also his current team too. Who would have thought right?
Although most preseason predictions shaped the Cavaliers and Celtics as the final two contestants in the East this year it was Toronto perhaps finally beating the Cavaliers or maybe the Philadelphia 76ers winning 50 games meant to take them more seriously. Yet, here we are again and the expected has happened.
The Celtics are regarded as one of the top defensive units in the NBA if not the best. Credit to Brad Stevens and doing so without his All-Stars in Irving and Hayward. Stevens will not have to worry about an Isaiah Thomas defensive liability on the floor or face a dilemma of offense vs defense. The injuries have allowed Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier to flourish their full potential and now a primary focus on both ends of the floor.
The Celtics are not facing a Rookie point guard or inexperience big man in Joel Embiid, however. The Cavaliers will come well calculated especially with a man by the name of LeBron James on the opposing end.
The emergence of Terry Rozier in the playoffs is one of the reasons why the Celtics are successful so far. The third-year guard is averaging 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game in the playoffs for the Celtics. Definitely a blessing in disguise as Irving sits out the entire postseason. This has allowed Rozier the ability to showcase his full impact on Boston’s road to the Finals.
He will be a primary focus and expectation to maintain his play even against the NBA’s best in LeBron James. While the Cavaliers may not have any true potential opposing All-Star guards, they have found a bit of rhythm in their series against the Raptors. LeBron will be LeBron and set his teammates up is what he will do. Rozier will be a large part of slowing down the backcourt and especially playing close to the shooters on the Cavaliers.
Brad Stevens vs Tyronn Lue
I will arguably say that Brad Stevens is probably the best head coach in the NBA right now. That is also over Pop but that’s another debate for another day. I can’t say that based on the regular season only that I wouldn’t entertain Brett Brown for Coach of the Year, however. Stevens has led the Celtics far again regardless the turmoils of injuries the Celtics have faced this season. In Stevens mind, he’s probably thinking, “fool me once but fool me twice” in regards to last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
With a slightly more experienced team and perhaps Kyrie Irving sitting on your bench this year the coaching could play a bit more importance than last year’s conference finals. Now, let’s now discredit Lue entirely. He did make a decision to inbound the ball in the backcourt of Game 3 in their Semifinals game against the Raptors.
Obviously, LeBron and coming down the court full steam is better than potentially being trapped in the half court immediately. The Celtics will matchup better this year and Stevens shouldn’t be taken lightly with the core group of young players that are returning to a similar situation this year. Lue will have to maintain making adjustments, of course, however, there is a man on his side that just sometimes might make the coach look good.
As always Kevin Love will be the determining factor of how well the Cavaliers can be. The storyline of the Cavaliers first round was James doesn’t have help and Love isn’t going to cut it. In their second-round series against the Toronto Raptors, the Cavaliers saw a different type of Love and reinforcement for James. Now, Love will see a much better defensive unit than in Toronto.
The Celtics found ways to disrupt Joel Embiid offensively with Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, and Al Horford. The concern here is that Love cannot get lost in any potential disruptions of his game. There have to be adjustments that come from a coaching and player perspective. Love must continue his reinforcement behind James. Getting Love started early in this series can give the Cavaliers other role players better chances to be open and of course leaving James to find them.
What else can you do King? We saw two buzzer beaters in one single postseason which is the first by any player ever. He has continued to defy any kind of science that a man should be slowing down at age 33 in year 15 of his NBA career. This postseason he is averaging 34.3 points shooting (55-percent from the field), 9.4 rebounds and a career high in the postseason 9 assist per game.
Obviously, the one edge the Cavaliers have and the one man the Celtics cannot compensate for from their end. How to “slow down” the kid from Akron? Marcus Smart took on a large responsibility last year in the conference finals to slow James. Again, that did not happen entirely. Insert Rookie Jayson Tatum who will now give Stevens extra size and length this year. I can’t imagine Brown or Morris having to switch and defend James as I believe Stevens will try to force James himself to defeat the men in green.
LeBron James is on the verge of heading to the NBA Finals for the 8th straight year should the Cavaliers win this series.
While the Celtics are certainly scary, with Terry, this again will be too much King James for Boston. I would say expect LeBron to have a semi-off game due to some of the defensive abilities of the Celtics. Otherwise, at full steam and almost a week off the Cavaliers will be back to defend their Eastern Conference title refreshed. This series has plenty of potential for close games instead of a repeat of last year’s blowout wins for Cleveland.
Series prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers in 5 games
Game 1: Sun, May 13: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/R
Game 2: Tue, May 15: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/R
Game 3: Sat, May 19: Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/R
Game 4: Mon, May 21: Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/R
Game 5*: Wed, May 23: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/R
Game 6*: Fri, May 25: Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/R
Game 7*: Sun, May 27: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/R
* – If Necessary
Baseline Times Contributor