Cleveland Cavaliers (2nd Seed) vs Boston Celtics (1st Seed)
Eastern Conference Finals – Game Two
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UPCOMING MILESTONES: With one more win, the Cavaliers tie with the 1988-89 L.A. Lakers for the longest playoff winning streak – potentially 13 games spanning back to Game Five of last years’ finals. LeBron James is four steals away from taking the 2nd most in NBA history – overtaking Michael Jordan. With one more steal, Kyrie Irving will have made the 2nd most in Cavaliers’ postseason history, passing Anderson Varejao.
Nine games into this seasons’ playoffs, and the Cavaliers are still without a single loss. Unfortunately for the Celtics, the Cavaliers have been nearly perfect when they get out to a 1-0 lead in a series, losing just one of the 18 series. Historically, however, the Cavaliers are just 5-13 while on the road against the Celtics in the playoffs, spanning back to the 1976 Conference Finals. If the Cavaliers can continue their play from Game One, and improve on the areas that were lacking, they should be able to once again overcome and outmatch the lineups put forward by Boston, barring any major strategic change-up. With the potential to fall to 0-2 with the next two games in Cleveland, the Celtics will most likely come out tonight with energy, determination, and grit.
In Game One, Cleveland completely dominated the first half, entering the break with a 61 – 39 lead and twice as many rebounds (28 to 14). In these first two quarters, LeBron James dropped 23 points on 66.7% shooting. Meanwhile, the the only Celtic in double-digits during this span was Avery Bradley, who netted 11 points. In the second half, the Celtics slowly tried inching their way back, outscoring the Cavaliers in the third quarter (36-31) and in the fourth quarter (29-25). In the end, the Wine-and-Gold went home with a 117-104 winner, in which the lead never left Cleveland’s hands.
Of players that played at least five minutes, only two Cleveland players were outscored while on the court – Kyle Korver (-1) and Iman Shumpert (-2). On the other hand, the Celtics only had two players that had a positive differential while on the court using the same criteria – Gerald Green (+10) and Jaylen Brown (+4). With Game Two’s balance relying heavily on gameplay adjustments, these two Celtics players may see increased playing time, especially since they had two of the best shooting percentages on the team as well. Even though the Celtics were able to put pressure on LeBron James while he shot, it didn’t seem to matter one bit – James shot 17 contested shots (five more than the next highest player on either team) but managed to drill 12 of them (70.6%). Conversely, he shot very poorly when he wasn’t marked up on (2/7 for 28.6% uncontested). One large positive that came out of Game One was Kevin Love’s resurgence – he scored a playoff career high of 32 points on 56.3% shooting (6/9 for 66.7% from three) while also snagging 12 rebounds.
Three keys for Game Two will be: (1) continuing to play strong inside. While they have only averaged 38.4 points per game in the paint in the playoffs so far, the Cavaliers scored a full 52 in the paint in Game One – with LeBron James scoring 26 of his points there. (2) Get the bench going. Cleveland’s reserves scored just 14 points on 19.0% shooting, while the Celtics’ bench excelled, scoring 34 points on 48.3% shooting. (3) Continue to stifle Isaiah Thomas. The offense flows through Thomas nearly every possession – he had the most touches (99) and passes (69) on either team, edging out LeBron James’ 98 touches and 61 passes. When contested, Thomas only shot 4/12 (33.3%) – a lot less than the 42.9% he shot when uncontested.
Key players to watch for on the Celtics will be Isaiah Thomas (averaging 24.8 points and 6.7 assists per playoff game), Al Horford (averaging 15.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per playoff game), and Avery Bradley (averaging 16.1 points per playoff game).
Tipoff is set for 8:30 EST and will be broadcast on TNT.