Eastern Conference Finals Preview
The Cleveland Cavaliers will face the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive postseason, but the matchup will be different from last year’s encounter as both teams boast almost entirely fresh lineups.
The Cavaliers enter the series following a 4-0 sweep of the Toronto Raptors and are $1.83 favourites to win according to bookmaker Sportsbet.
Led by LeBron James, who is averaging 34 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists in 11 playoff games this postseason, Cleveland has hit top form at the right time.
Many of the Cavaliers players struggled in their first round series against Indiana but found their groove in the second round against the Raptors.
Role players such as J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver and Tristan Thompson will need to step up once again if they are to overcome the young talent from Boston and help the Cavs advance to their fourth straight NBA Finals.
Much maligned forward Kevin Love, who tore ligaments in his left thumb against Indiana, will be arguably the most crucial player for the Cavaliers in the ECF.
Love’s ability to post up close to the ring and score on smaller Celtics defenders like Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum and take bigger defenders such as Al Horford and Aron Baynes out of the lane and score from the perimeter could give Cleveland the edge they need against a Boston team that will go in full of confidence after a 4-1 series against Philadelphia.
Cleveland will not advance to the Finals without superstar James continuing his extraordinary play deep into his 15th NBA season.
‘King James’ will likely need to average a triple double and score at least 30 points a game to put the series in the Cavs’ favour.
Despite entering the series as underdogs ($2.02 to win Game 1), the Celtics will give themselves every chance to win the ECF.
They entered the season led by Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but with both superstars injured, Boston’s youth took up the mantle and have them well placed to take the fight to the reigning Eastern Conference champions.
Jayson Tatum, the number three pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, leads the Celtics with 18.8 points per game in the playoffs but it is the defence of All-Star centre Al Horford that anchors Boston.
The Celtics young talent includes Jaylen Brown, the third pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Terry Rozier, the 16th pick in the 2015 Draft and Marcus Smart, who was picked sixth overall in the 2014 Draft.
Their relative inexperience matters little as coach Brad Stevens has helped Boston stay afloat despite the loss of their two stars.
Stevens has helped the young stars thrive, as three of the Boston top four scorers in points per game have just three years of NBA experience or less.
For Boston to advance to their first NBA Finals since 2010, Tatum will need to continue his streak of seven consecutive playoff games with at least 20 points and hope Rozier maintains his exceptional fourth quarter play; where he has recorded 17 assists and just one turnover in the fourth quarter and overtime this postseason, spanning 12 games.
Horford and Smart will need to deliver their trademark defence if they’re to stop Cleveland’s two stars in James and Love.
Any team that boasts LeBron is always in with a shot to win a postseason series and that should be the difference in the rematch of the Cavaliers and Celtics Eastern Conference matchup.
James can score from anywhere on the floor and has the ability to get any member of his team involved. If Cleveland’s role players can step up as they did against Toronto, they should win the series and advance to their fourth straight NBA Finals.
Cleveland 4 – 2 Boston.