Celtics Vs Cavs – The Ultimate Preview
Celtics Vs Cavs – The Ultimate Preview
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics are headed towards a highly anticipated showdown for the second straight year in the hopes of reaching the NBA Finals. Both teams look extremely different to last season, but nevertheless the familiar foes will take to the floor tonight to determine who draws first blood in the series.
Whilst both teams have taken very different paths to get to this point, it’s only right we preview this clash from all perspectives and factors that will determine who is crowned Eastern Conference Champions.
With that being said, let’s dive right into dissecting what will determine the winner of this series.
COACHING WILL ABSOLUTELY MATTER
This goes without saying in the playoffs, but coaching will matter more so in this series than in any other during the Eastern Conference playoffs this season. It will matter for a couple of massively important reasons. One of which is Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens has guided this team to the Conference Finals without the help of any genuine superstar. Widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the association, Stevens will have to at his best yet again to overcome the biggest obstacle standing in his way so far this season. Stevens has done an excellent job of maximizing the talent of everyone on his roster, and that will have to continue as the chess games of the playoffs demand nothing less. On the other side of the coin, Cavs’ coach Tyronn Lue has also pushed the right buttons at critical times in this postseason. His first master stroke was starting Tristan Thompson in Game 7 of the first round against the Indiana Pacers after he had hardly played throughout that series, and secondly, keeping Kevin Love at center during the series against the Toronto Raptors which unleashed the K-Love the Cavs were so desperately craving. These decisions have been nothing short of outstanding by Lue, who has rightly come under fire for some of his choices and rotations in the past. As you can see coaching will be an instrumental factor in deciding the victor of this series, and the Celtics may have the best in the business in their corner.
THE AL HORFORD – KEVIN LOVE MATCHUP
As you already know, the playoffs is all about matchups. This will be no different during this series and we will cover all the key matchups that can swing momentum to each franchise. First up is the Horford-Love matchup. Now, these two may not directly matchup all of the time, but at the tip and for long chunks of the series, they will be each other’s direct opponent. Whilst Horford has flourished in the Stevens’ system and being the main factor in them stealing games against the 76ers in the second round, Love has always been productive when Horford has guarded him. One of Love’s biggest strength’s is taking Horford away from the paint by stretching the floor, and in doing so neutralizes his ability to be any form of inside presence. On the other end, its unlikely Horford will be in the post much to score the ball, but he will continue to facilitate out of the elbow and be effective that way. A lot will on the shoulders of Horford and Love, so the man that can get the upper-hand in this matchup may be a main factor in helping his team win the series.
THE GEORGE HILL – TERRY ROZIER MATCHUP
Another key matchup will be at the point guard positon between Terry Rozier and George Hill. Since Kyrie Irving went down for the season and Rozier has been handed the starting spot, the Celtics haven’t really lost a step as the dynamic scoring guard has been superb. It will up to Hill to slow him down, and make him work on the other end as well. Hill was quietly aggressive during the Raptors series which helped the Cavs, and his ball handling ability takes the pressure of LeBron James. Hill has also been a huge factor in getting the best out of Kevin Love during the previous series, and the 1-5 pick and roll got Love back into his rhythm and confidence in his shot. The Cavs really missed Hill in their first round series against the Pacers, but when he’s been healthy they have looked like a different team on both ends of the floor. Another series determining matchup at the point guard position.
MARCUS MORRIS ON LEBRON JAMES AND/OR KEVIN LOVE
We’ve talked about Al Horford matching up with Kevin Love, but Marcus Morris could also take that assignment. Morris is a versatile defender with good size and strength, and he could go a long way in neutralizing Love for the Cavs. Now with James it’s a completely different beast, and you can only hope to slow him down but for Love, Morris could be his nightmare. Love flourished in the previous series against the Raptors because they didn’t have a player versatile enough to go out there to the three-point line as well as battle him in the post, but Morris can definitely be that guy. I’m sure it’s something Brad Stevens is definitely looking at, as he could try and neutralize the Cavs second scoring option.
EXPERIENCE WILL PLAY A PART
Experience in the playoffs is a real thing. It’s not some magic fairy dust that you sprinkle over players, it’s the ability to still execute under the highest amounts of pressure in professional sport under extreme circumstances. Having been there and done that plays a huge factor, and as of right now, LeBron James has played more minutes than the entire Celtics’ roster combined. It’s actually mind blowing when you think about it, but the championship experience the Cavs have could give them a significant advantage in this series, especially on the road. Most of them have never been here before, and that will matter when the going gets tough. The Celtics have nothing to lose which is on their side, and they have definitely overachieved so far, but coaching will only take them so far. At the end of the day Brad Stevens isn’t the one shooting the ball, he’s only the one putting them in that positon.
KYRIE SCOUTING THE CAVS WONT MATTER
There has been numerous reports of Brad Stevens spending a lot of time with Kyrie Irving to discuss and dissect the Cavs. The truth is, it might hold some value but won’t matter all that much, as the Cavs are a completely different team to when he was in Northeast Ohio. Not only has their personnel changed, but their playing style on both ends has as well. It’s also a different LeBron James he remembers, one who has been unleashed and displaying his full potential this entire season and especially in the playoffs. This isn’t the same James Irving shared a locker room with, he’s a different animal now especially on the offensive end and like all superstars, he’ll make his own adjustments throughout the series.
NO RIM PROTECTION FOR BOSTON
This is straightforward and may not seem like a big factor but it absolutely is. Unlike the Pacers and definitely the Raptors with Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valancinous, the Celtics do not have a true rim protector. They’re about to face a player who is arguably the greatest ever at getting to the rim and finishing, so yes, it absolutely matters because LeBron James is likely going to live in the paint and put pressure on their defense from the inside out.
TIMES LIKE THESE NEED SUPERSTARS, AND ONLY ONE TEAM HAS ONE
The first round is the first round, and the second round is the second round, but the potential of reaching an NBA Finals is a completely different prospect. There is a reason why teams without superstars don’t win titles, and this series will be no different. There is talent for both franchises, but only one undoubted superstar, and that is LeBron James. Superstars win games, and their carrying power is often a determining factor. With the Celtics not having THAT guy they can go to when they desperately need a bucket makes them vulnerable and limited, the same can’t be said about the Cavs who have the best player in the world on their side.
DO BOSTON HAVE ENOUGH OFFENSE?
With superstars often comes offense, and the Celtics will face their biggest challenge of scoring the ball in this series. With players like Irving and Gordon Hayward out, the Celtics lack that superstar talent that has the potential to drop 30+ points in every single game of this series. The Pacers and Raptors both had players that could exploit the undersized nature of the Cavs inside, but like we’ve touched on, the Celtics don’t possess that player. Greg Monroe can hurt them in the post, but overusing him will malfunction the rest of their all movement offense. In truth, it might not be enough to keep up with the Cavs, especially if their offense is clicking like it has been last series.
THE CAVS ARE DIFFERENT NOW
Everyone remembers the Cavaliers for their poor defense during the regular season and lack of offense during the Pacers series, but this team is completely different now. The Cavs have not only got healthy and found their most productive starting unit, their rotation is down and players now understand their role in its entirety. The Cavs defense has been suffocating in both series, and with more reps under their belt as a whole, this team is very different from the inconsistent regular season one we saw night in and night out.
ROLE PLAYERS MAY STRUGGLE FOR THE CAVS
Much like the Pacers series, it’s hard to see the Cavs’ role players being as productive against the Celtics like they were against the Raptors. A main reason for that is because they’re better defensively as a whole, their defensive schemes are better and they possess multiple bodies that can do different things. This will likely make things tougher on the Cavs role players, and we’ve seen how different this Cavs team is when the “others” aren’t firing like they should. The production of the Cavaliers’ role players will make or break their series.
IT’S BETTER FOR THE CAVS STARTING THE SERIES ON THE ROAD
I think this is one of the more underrated factors in this series. In this situation, I think it’s worse for the Celtics to start this series at home. TD Garden will be rocking, but much like the Raptors series against the Cavs, if they drop any of the first two games of the series it could be all over before it even begins. If the Cavs steal Game 1, then Game 2 becomes basically their Game 7, and that kind of pressure for an inexperienced team could break them. As for the Cavs, they’ll be looking to at least split both games which will give them home court and a decisive advantage. They’re very good at home and so is James, so starting the series on the road is actually ideal for them. It’s even more ideal when we consider the type of success James has had against the Celtics in the past on the road and in the playoffs in general. Some of his greatest performances of his career have come in Boston, not a good sign for the Celtics.
LEBRON JAMES IS RESTED
With the load he takes on both ends and the carrying he has to do for them to win, this absolutely matters. James got a lot of rest after the quick series against the Raptors. A rested LeBron is a scary LeBron.
NO MATCHUP FOR THE KING
In my opinion, this will ultimately be the deciding factor in this series – the Celtics simply don’t have an adequate matchup for LeBron James. Now, it won’t be as bad as it was against the Raptors, but even though the Celtics have more bodies to throw at James, it doesn’t necessarily mean any are worthy of truly slowing him down. Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Al Horford are all likely to be thrown at James, but all players have distinct disadvantages when trying to guard him. James is an expert at exposing mismatches, and with the lack of rim protection we’ve already talked about, it’s likely they’ll be punished inside more often than not. They’ll likely try and make James a jump shooter or send double-teams to him, but as we know his passing can kill you, and if his role players get off the series could be over extremely quickly. James is the ultimate matchup problem, because he has no weakness in his game. His mind and experience is above anyone in the league, and there isn’t a defense he hasn’t seen yet. He’ll make the necessary adjustments and with no one in a green jersey truly capable of slowing him down, I don’t think he will let anyone get in the way of him reaching his 8th straight NBA Finals.