Cleveland Cavaliers (2nd Seed) vs Boston Celtics (1st Seed)
Eastern Conference Finals – Game One
UPCOMING MILESTONES: With three more steals, Kyrie Irving will have made the 2nd most in Cavaliers’ postseason history, passing Anderson Varejao. LeBron James is six steals away from taking the 2nd most in NBA history – overtaking Michael Jordan. LeBron James has had four straight games with 35+ppg, and after last game he has now 66 playoff games with at least 30 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists (Michael Jordan has 51 in 15 seasons).
After the Cleveland Cavaliers continued their postseason dominance with a four-game sweep the 3rd-seeded Toronto Raptors, all that remains in the Wine-and-Gold’s way to a third straight Finals appearance are the 1st-seeded Boston Celtics. After winning in seven games against the Washington Wizards, the Celtics will have only had a single days rest, while the Cavaliers haven’t played since May 7th. These nine days of rest were the longest gap in the playoffs in Cavaliers’ franchise history.
In the regular season, the Cavaliers faced the Celtics four times, with only one of those won by Boston. On November 3rd, Cleveland pulled ahead to a 128-122 win at home, spurred on by LeBron James’ 30 point, 12 assist, and 7 rebound performance. On December 29th, Kyrie Irving dropped 32 points on 70.6% shooting to counter Isaiah Thomas’ 31 points on 61.5% shooting, as the Wine-and-Gold won 124-118. In their only loss – March 1st – the lead changed 24 separate times as LeBron James’ and Kyrie Irving’s 28 points weren’t enough to change the outcome of the 99-103 defeat. Most recently, on April 5th – in the only game of the regular season series which was decided by double digits – the Cavaliers powered ahead to a 114-91 victory, due in part by a 38 point second quarter and LeBron James’ 36 points on 63.6% from the field. In all four matches, Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics in scoring (30, 31, 31, and 26).
In the playoffs so far, the Celtics have excelled at moving the ball, averaging a league high 27.3 assists per game and 310.1 passes per game. In fact, 67.8 of their 107.1 total points per game (63.3%) come off of assisted shots. Similarly to the Cavaliers, the Celtics thrive off of catch-and-shoot opportunities (netting them a league most 34.2 points per game) and three point attempts (36.6% of their total points). Following their regular season inefficiency in rebounding, they have pulled down the second fewest defensive rebounds per game (29.3) and the fourth fewest total rebounds per game (38.3) in the playoffs this year. Defensively, the Celtics have excelled at guarding from distance, where they held their opponents 3.9% bellow average. However, they have been giving up 1.2% above average on two point shots. The Cavaliers have to be weary on offense to keep a hold of the ball – the Celtics’ 8.0 steals per game is the fourth highest in the playoffs.
Three keys for Game One will be: (1) playing strong off the glass. One of the key weaknesses of this Celtics team is rebounding – in wins, Boston allowed their opponents to secure 44.1 rebounds (out-rebounded by 4.3), but in losses this postseason, their opponents have averaged 47.6 per game (outrebounded by 11.6). (2) Tight defense around the three point arc. They score 36.6% of their points off of threes (second highest in the playoffs), but only shoot the sixth best three point percentage – 37.4%. They attempt even more triples than the Cavaliers each game, so if the wing defenders can succeed in lowering their percentages from distance, it’ll make a fairly large impact. (3) Slow down Isaiah Thomas. Despite his height, he led the Celtics in scoring for all regular season matchups with the Cavaliers.
Key players to watch for on the Celtics will be Isaiah Thomas (averaging 25.4 points and 6.5 assists per playoff game), Al Horford (averaging 16.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per playoff game), and Avery Bradley (averaging 15.8 points per playoff game.
Tipoff is set for 8:30 EST and will be broadcast on TNT.