Shipping Up to Boston: Cavs-Celtics Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Cavs Second Round: Swept Toronto 4-0
Celtics Second Round: Beat Washington 4-3

Season Series: Cleveland won 3-1

Game 1: Cleveland at Boston, Wednesday May 17 at 8:30 p.m.
Game 2: Cleveland at Boston, Friday May 19 at 8:30 p.m.
Game 3: Boston at Cleveland, Sunday May 21 at 8:30 p.m.
Game 4: Boston at Cleveland, Tuesday May 23 at 8:30 p.m.
Game 5: Cleveland at Boston, Thursday May 25 (If Necessary)
Game 6: Boston at Cleveland, Saturday May 27 (If Necessary)
Game 7: Cleveland at Boston, Monday May 29 (If Necessary)

Cavaliers guard, Kyrie Irving launches a three in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals on May 1 in Cleveland.
Photo Credit-Jeff Lansky

The defending NBA Champions return to the hardwood tonight for the first time in 9 days after a second round sweep of the Toronto Raptors. The Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals opponent is a familiar foe in the number one seeded Boston Celtics. The Cavs once again put the question to rest about them “flipping the switch” with blowout wins against the Raptors in the first two games of the series. LeBron James has once again shown why he is the best player in the world by playing arguably the best postseason basketball in his career. King James became the first player in NBA history to tally 275 points, 70 rebounds, and 50 assists in the first eight games of the postseason. That type of dominance has Cleveland poised to earn their third straight trip as well as LeBron’s seventh consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics advanced to their first Conference Finals since 2012 after a Game 7 win at home against the Washington Wizards. The Celtics have faced some adversity so far this postseason overcoming a 0-2 deficit against the Chicago Bulls in the first round, while star point guard, Isaiah Thomas has been playing through the grief of losing his sister in a car accident the day before the postseason began. The Cavs and Celtics have met six times in the playoffs with Boston holding the edge 18-16. These two teams have had some classic postseason matchups, but if the Cavs continue to play at the level they have been this will be a short affair.

Key Matchup

Celtics guard, Isaiah Thomas drives to the basket in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals on May 7 in Washington D.C.
Photo Credit-Keith Allison

The matchup to watch for in this series is between Isaiah Thomas and the Cavalier’s defenders. It is no secret that Kyrie Irving is a weak defender and because of this Tyronn Lue will have to limit the times that Kyrie guards Thomas. “IT” is Boston’s go to scoring option with averages of 25.4 points on 44 percent shooting with 6.5 assists a game in these playoffs. Thomas is also shooting 34 percent from beyond the arc so far this postseason. Lue’s defensive game plan of double teams and traps gave both Paul George and DeMar DeRozan trouble during the first two rounds. Look for Lue to use this same strategy against Thomas to force his teammates to beat the Cavs. In the four regular season meetings against Cleveland, Thomas averaged 29.5 points, 6.5 assists, and he shot 21 percent from three point range. Because of Kyrie’s defensive weakness, I expect J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to guard Thomas during parts of this series. If Cleveland successfully slows down Thomas, Boston’s other players will have a daunting task. On April 5 in the season finale between these two teams, the Cavaliers came out firing and played great defense in Boston to win 114-91. Isaiah Thomas was held to 26 points after scoring 31 plus points in the previous three meetings. During that April 5 matchup the Celtics second leading scorer was Jae Crowder with 13 points, while both Horford and Kelly Olynk added 12 points. If the Cavs can turn in more defensive performances like this they will have make short work of the Celtics.

Lansky’s Crazy Stat

LeBron James is the first player in NBA history to score 35 plus points in every game of a four game sweep. He also completed his eleventh career sweep, which is the most by any player in NBA history.

Bonus Stat

With their sweep of the Raptors, the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA History to start 8-0 in consecutive playoffs.

Prediction

After sitting for nine days, the story of Game 1 will be if the Cavs have any issues with rust. The Cavaliers have stressed the importance of rest in between playoff series these last three years and have made sure to hit their conditioning hard during the extended break. This is a veteran team and they have shown that they have benefited from the rest and haven’t been too rusty at all. In order for the Celtics to have any chance in this series Isaiah Thomas will need help. Al Horford has finally evolved into the player the Celtics were hoping for all season on both sides of the floor. He is coming off a terrific series against the Wizards as he shot 67.6 percent from the field and 60.9 percent from three point range. As good as Horford has been for the Celtics this postseason it would be asking a lot for him to continue producing at the level he has been against the defending champs. Defensively, the C’s will rely on their lockdown wing defenders, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart to give the Cavs some fits. The Cavs bread and butter all season long has been to bury teams with their shooting. Cleveland has a mind boggling effective field goal percentage of 70.7 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers this postseason, which is the best in the league. The Cavaliers front office built this team by surrounding LeBron James with shooters and it has proven to be very effective. Boston is a scrappy team and I expect the Cavs to face a little adversity in this series. In the end, the Cavaliers experience will reign supreme over a young Celtics team with a bright future ahead of them.
Cavaliers in five.

Cavs-Raptors Round 2 Preview

Cavs First Round: Swept Indiana 4-0
Raptors First Round: Beat Milwaukee 4-2

Season Series: Cleveland won 3-1

Game 1: Toronto at Cleveland, Monday May 1 at 7 p.m.
Game 2: Toronto at Cleveland, Wednesday May 3 at 7 p.m.
Game 3: Cleveland at Toronto, Friday May 5 at 7 p.m.
Game 4: Cleveland at Toronto, Sunday May 7 at 3:30 p.m.
Game 5: Toronto at Cleveland, Tuesday May 9 (If Necessary)
Game 6: Cleveland at Toronto, Thursday May 11 (If Necessary)
Game 7: Toronto at Cleveland, Sunday May 14 (If Necessary)

LeBron James reacts after a dunk in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quaterfinals against the Indiana Pacers. Photo Credit-Jeff Lansky

After a first round sweep of the Indiana Pacers, the Cleveland Cavaliers return to action for the first time in 8 days to play host to the Toronto Raptors tonight. This second round matchup will be a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, a series that the Cavs took in six games. This year’s matchup proves to be tougher for the defending NBA champs as the Raptors have some new pieces on their roster to challenge King James. Toronto’s acquisitions of big man, Serge Ibaka and the sharpshooting PJ Tucker should make for an interesting series. Cleveland jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first round against the Pacers. They quickly silenced any doubts about them “flipping the switch”, as the Cavs rallied from a 25-point halftime deficit to take Game 3 by a score of 119-114. Cleveland squandered fourth quarter leads in three of the four games against the Pacers, something that they can’t afford to do against a dangerous Raptors team. This matchup may arguably be the most difficult of any potential matchup the Cavs may face in the Eastern Conference playoffs this season. Shutting down Toronto’s superstar backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be key for the Cavaliers.

Key Matchup

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports

The matchup to watch for in this series is between point guards Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry. Lowry broke his wrist in late February causing him to miss 21 games. Toronto’s All-Star point guard is still trying to find his form again after averaging 14.3 points per game against the Bucks in the first round. He shot 43 percent from the floor and 28 percent from three point land. Lowry is most dangerous off the pick and roll and he can make you pay by drawing fouls on his way to the basket. Kyrie Irving has struggled on defense his entire career and it will be crucial to the Cavs success that he plays smart against Lowry. Irving played very well in three games against the Raptors this season. He averaged 24.7 points, 5.7 assists and shot 47 percent from three-point range. If that Kyrie shows up the Raptors will have their hands full.

Lansky’s Crazy Stat

The Cavaliers swept Pacers guard, Jeff Teague from the playoffs for the third year in a row. Cleveland also swept Teague when he was on the Atlanta Hawks in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals and the 2016 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. I can’t recall any other player being swept by a single team in three consecutive years in each round of the conference playoffs.

Prediction

This year’s Cavs-Raptors matchup is highlighted by new additions for both teams. For Toronto, it’s Ibaka and Tucker who will both be used in different looks against LeBron James. Ibaka has proven to be a threat as he scored in double figures in four of the six games in the first round and he has the second most blocks in the Eastern Conference so far this postseason. For Cleveland, Deron Williams and Kyle Korver will both look to provide instant offense from beyond the arc. As mentioned earlier the key to beating the Raptors is to shut down DeRozan and Lowry. The best way to do that is to force them to make tough shots and keep them away from the foul line. DeRozan ranked fifth in the NBA this season for free throw attempts with an average of 8.7 times per game. Cavs guard J.R. Smith touched on DeRozan’s foul shooting this week saying, “If you can get out of the game with probably a foul or two, him shooting five free throws or less, that’s pretty good.” DeRozan averaged just 5.5 free throw attempts in last year’s conference finals, which proved to be effective. As bad as the Cavs defense has been, they have managed to average the third lowest opponent free throw rate in both the regular season and postseason. If the Cavs can force both Lowry and DeRozan to take contested shots down the stretch and keep them away from the charity stripe they will be in good shape. The Cavs once again showed how dangerous their offense is against the Pacers, but their defensive effort is still lacking. Cleveland became the first team since the 1995 Houston Rockets to allow 100 points in every game of a series sweep. The Raptors are a dangerous scoring team so it will be crucial for the Cavs to make stops and not blow fourth quarter leads. Cleveland has shown that they can “flip the switch,” now can they keep the switch on during crucial parts of the game? That question may define the remainder of the Cavs quest to repeat as NBA Champions.
The Cavaliers will win this series in 6 games.