The upcoming rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals might not have the same level of drama as it would have had if Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas were both playing, or even if either one of them were playing, but it has not changed the stakes. The Cleveland Cavaliers are big favorites in this series, which is understandable considering they have LeBron James. His teams have won this series each of the past seven seasons. On top of that, the Celtics have undergone a few injuries that have thinned out an otherwise clearly superior roster, but the Celtics/Cavs rematch is sure to be tighter than last season, and could even end Lebron’s streak of finals appearances. In this Eastern Conference Finals Preview,
Boston Celtics vs Cleveland Cavaliers Series Preview
Eastern Conference Finals Preview
James is once again proving he is the best player in the world in this year’s playoffs. He has been scoring with ease, finding his teammates, owning the glass and playing good defense. He will be a handful to deal with defensively for the Celtics. Boston will most likely play him the same way they played Embiid in the last series vs the Philadelphia 76ers, which was to play him one-on-one even if he has the good matchup to limit his playmaking. James is one of the best playmakers in the NBA and what he truly wants to do is find the open man on every possession. The Celtics primary goal on defense should be to clog the passing lane on every possession and force James to score every point.
Tatum was dominant offensively against Philadelphia in the conference semifinals. He never scored less than 20 points the entire series and he did not take many bad shots. He continued to find his spots on and off the ball and was able to tear apart a Philadelphia defense that is much better than the Cavs. Tatum will be faced off against James a lot in this upcoming series, so the fans will see if he can even manage anything close to that in this upcoming series.
The Cavaliers role players, who I am considering everyone to be except James, have had one really good series and one really bad series. That is because of defensive game planning. The Pacers took everyone except James out of the game and were able to push the series seven games, while the Raptors tried vice versa and got swept. This is why Dwane Casey got fired. He saw something that worked for another team and did not copy it. Instead, he tried the same defensive strategy that has gotten his team killed by Cleveland in each of the past three seasons. The Cavs role players are feeling confident coming into Boston, and if they pick up where they left off the Celtics could get swept.
It is hard to tell which players on this Celtics roster are stars and which ones are role players. Probably because at some point in the season each of them has been a star, but also each of them has been a role player. Boston’s star in the second round against Philly was Tatum. The rest of the guys each had big nights, but Tatum was the most consistent. Brown was playing at a star level in the first round but underwent a hamstring issue that crippled him against Philadelphia until Game 5. This leaves Smart and Baynes as role players. The Celtics have gotten major contributions from these guys in the postseason, especially in Boston. If they play well and can hold the role players of the Cavaliers to minimal points, James’ streak of conference championships will be sure to end and quite easily.
Young Legs vs Experience
The Cavs obtain the leagues oldest roster while the Celtics have one of the youngest. This is a double-edged sword for both sides because there is more experience that comes with age, but there is also more energy that comes with youth. If the Cavaliers are able to take a 3-0 or 3-1 lead fatigue should not be much of an issue. But if it is a 2-2 tie four games in, they could be in trouble. For how many games can JR Smith chase around Rozier? For how many games can Kyle Korver run with Jaylen Brown or Tatum? On the other hand, can this young Celtics roster maintain their poise in a Game 7 with a trip to the NBA finals on the line? We shall see.
For The Cavaliers, the X factor will be Tristan Thompson. While Korver has been the best and most consistent role player for Cleveland this postseason, the Celtics just played against JJ Redick who plays virtually the exact same style and they were able to keep him under wraps most of the series. The Celtics do not give up threes. It is one of the major reasons they have been able to hold so many teams under 100 points this season. If the Celtics are going to help off of anyone it will be Thompson, so expect him to get a lot of easy looks at the rim.
For The Celtics, it will be Rozier. While Tatum has been clearly been their most consistent offensive weapon in the past several games, it is Rozier’s play that decides whether or not the Celtics win. Brown seems to be back to normal after Game 5 in Boston, so he will be a constant. Horford will do whatever the team needs him to do in order to win. The only reason Smart is not the X factor is that he will more than likely struggle offensively. But if Smart is knocking down his three-point shot on a nightly basis, then he becomes the X factor and Cleveland might get destroyed.
All in all, it should be a wonderful series and one of the toughest Eastern Conference series for The King since the Heat beat Boston in seven games back in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.
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