With the Eastern Conference Finals set to start in a couple of hours, the Boston Celtics will try protect their homecourt against Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Unlike what’s happening out West, this year’s Eastern Conference Finals is expected to be much more competitive. The Boston Celtics hope to take their gritty defense and Isaiah Thomas-powered offense to the Finals. Standing in their way are defending champs Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Who’ll stand out on top in this series? Can the Celtics realistically stop James from taking over games? How about Cleveland? Will their depth be enough to overcome Thomas brilliance down the stretch? Let’s take a look at how these two teams stack up.
— NBA (@NBA) May 17, 2017
Defense versus offense
More than anything, this Eastern Conference Finals series will be about defense versus offense. Obviously, the Celtics have been better off defensively this season despite their inconsistencies. Against the Cavaliers, they’ll likely send Jae Crowder and possibly Jaylen Brown to cover Lebron James. With that said, LBJ is never going to be an easy cover even with double-teams. Just having one player on him would mean potentially giving the King a 20+ point night. And if they do limit his scoring, James can still impact games with his court vision and passing.
If you're facing a rested LeBron James in the playoffs, you're gonna have a bad time. https://t.co/D0KwZ4ytWW
— ESPN (@espn) May 17, 2017
As for the Cavaliers, their problem is going to be Isaiah Thomas. The diminutive yet mercurial guard proved to be a handful for the Washington Wizards in their series. Now, it’s Cleveland’s turn to think of ways to slow him down. Expect coach Tyronn Lue to have J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert on him for the majority of the series. Whether these two can stop him though, is another matter. Much like Lebron, IT will find a way to score and help his team to victory.
— NBA (@NBA) May 17, 2017
Can the second units compete?
Perhaps one area that the Celtics might struggle in is their bench scoring. Up to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics’ bench has been very inconsistent. In their series against Washington, non-existent bench play cost them Game 6 and an early series win. Of course, the very same bench led by Kelly Olynyk did come up big at home in the series finale. The problem here though is that the Wizards aren’t the Cavaliers. In order for Boston to win the East, their second unit needs to be able to provide steady production on both ends of the floor.
Though it may not look like it when you check their records, the Cavaliers are actually a very deep team. Coach Tyronn Lue can afford an 8 or 9-man rotation and his team will still be very competitive. A lot of this has to do with the fact that a lot of his players complement Lebron James’ game. Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, and Derron Williams have no problems hitting the long ball. If the Celtics collapse on Lebron’s drives, he’ll have a number of options to pass the ball to. What’s even scarier is that each of them can get hot at any time.
The Cavaliers aren’t underdogs
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 17, 2017
While they may be playing in the Celtics’ home court, the Cleveland Cavaliers are no underdogs. In this Eastern Conference Finals series, it’s the Celtics and not the Cavs that are fighting an uphill battle. Unlike the Wizards, they’ll have to game plan against Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Additionally, they’ll have to make sure that the Cavs second unit doesn’t get going offensively. Other than these, they’ll need to make sure Isaiah Thomas gets going early and late in the game. All the while, Boston would have to get their own second unit to produce consistently on offense.
Eastern Conference Finals prediction
— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) May 17, 2017
There’s no doubt for me that the Cavaliers will come out on top in this series. While Isaiah Thomas has been phenomenal, I think that the Celtics will need more from the rest of the team to beat Cleveland. As for the Cavaliers, their challenge is to not be complacent. Despite their disadvantage, the Celtics are still a dangerous team. With that said, Cleveland will only need to win one game on the road to take command of the Eastern Conference Finals.