Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Cleveland vs. Boston

 

Highlights provided by MLG Highlights

 

Well folks, needless to say it has been one hell of a ride getting here but we now have our combatants for the ECF. Although this matchup was a popular pick in the preseason I think it’s safe to say that there is some surprise to them meeting up here. Both the Celtics and Cavaliers took similar paths getting here although their expectations couldn’t be more different. Both were pushed to the brink by their first round opponents as it took them seven games to vanquish the Bucks and Pacers effectively. Surely this spawned talk of these teams not making it out of the next round. Jokes on us, the Cavs dismantled the Raptors (again) and the Celts made quick work of arguably the hottest team in the East in Philly.

Despite their mirroring roads to get here these teams can’t be more different. Cleveland, for the first time since they essentially got a brand new team at the trade deadline looks like a legit title contender while Boston has continued to plug away without two of their best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. LeBron James is clearly sailing the ship and has been able to get by with the bare minimum from his supporting cast in most cases but head coach Brad “Boy Genius” Stephens has lead the Celtics in such a cerebral manner and has gotten so much out of his guys top to bottom (specifically the young dudes in which we’ll definitely talk about later) that he may actually be the perfect foil for James. Needless to say, I don’t see this being a ho hum, regular schmegular degular ECF.

 

Cavs will win if they…

Can capitalize on the teamwork they displayed in the Toronto series lightening James’ load just enough to ensure he’ll be at full strength when he’s absolutely needed (because he’ll definitely be needed). Now this needs to manifest itself in several ways.

James will definitely facilitate primarily which means the Cavs will get open shots (probably less than usual but they’ll be there) that they just plainly have to hit. I know, some real deep analysis here but the strength of their offense lies in it’s simplicity. James works best when he has options. If he’s feeling confident in his shot he can eat you up there, if he’s feeling bullish he can attack the rack as opposing defenders rack up fouls and if he’s in a giving mood he can share the love as long as the other Cavs are hitting while remaining a constant threat. But if we’re going to be more specific here Kevin Love has to be big here as does George Hill who both did good work in the Raps series. Hill’s importance as a secondary facilitator will be key in freeing up James and others.

J.R. “Pipe” Smith and Kyle Korver jumpers have to be wet. Simply put. Smith is a guy that can be useful on defense when his shot is falling so look for this if he starts off hot. With the recent play of Al Horford and Aron Baynes a good series from Tristan “TrashGawd” Thompson-Kardashian(?) and Larry Nance, Jr. will be a boon for them here. We get it, the Cavs aren’t a good defensive team and they have gotten by simply blasting teams (even really good defensive teams) off the court offensively. This would be a goo opportunity to get Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood involved even if they don’t really move the needle offensively.

This will be a series that will force the Cavs to really extend themselves and work as a complete team. Which actually plays into their opponent’s hand.

 

Celtics will win if they…

Out tough and outsmart them. No one is sill enough to think they will shut down James but it has been proven that if you can put a game plan around diluting his effectiveness there is a chance you can beat the best player on the planet. However, it helps if you have two top 20 guys on your roster. Wait, Boston have those! Wait, they’re out for the season. So how in the hell will Boston survive here? Well, do you want the long or short version? Okay, the you got it.

So any game plan you will draw up to beat Cleveland starts and ends with LeBron James obviously. It just happens that Brad Stephens is one of the few men that can construct one. You see the bones in it if you noticed how they defended Ben Simmons in the previous series. The Celtics essentially built a wall on defense around Simmons pretty much dictating where the offense would flow and preventing them from getting in his spots. Before y’all lose it I am in no way implying that Simmons in nearly as good as James but I’m simply pointing out that bones of a good strategy is present. It helps that the Cs have multiple bodies to put on James regardless of what position he’s playing at the time. And most of them happen to be pretty damn good individual defenders.

There are concerns about them recovering to guard the shooters but the Cadre of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, “Scary” Terry Rozier, Semi Oyejele and Marcus Morris did a pretty damn good job at recovering to guard the like of JJ Reddick, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. Their main objective here is to disrupt James’ flow which effects everything else the Cavs do.

Offense will be the more pressing issue. Don’t get me wrong the Celtics really turned it on in the previous series against the Sixers but consistency is still an issue. The young trio of Rozier, Brown and Tatum has impressively carried them on the this side of the ball but all three are prone to cold streaks. Horford is doing a decent job scoring but may need to pull out some 20 and 10 magic just to keep the Cavs guessing. Baynes developed a shot all of a sudden which helps spread the floor for easy baskets. What can really help here is finding a way to take advantage of the Cavs weaker defenders. Matchups with Korver and Love will be vital to getting easy buckets. If Smith is moping because his shot isn’t falling they should really attack with Brown and Tatum.

Strategically, this will be the ultimate brain vs. braun series. So much so that Boston probably believe they have a real edge here. I’m not saying they’re wrong but I just they should be careful not to be so enamored with what they do well that they forget that it will take everything they have to make this look good nevertheless pull this out.

 

H.B. says……Cavs in 7

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