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NBA Playoffs Primer III: Cavaliers face old rival in Eastern Conference Finals

NBA Playoffs Primer III: Cavaliers face old rival in Eastern Conference Finals

Note: This contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity Wars

Last time out, we looked over the Cavaliers’ prehistoric tilt with the Toronto Raptors. After looking like LeBron James and a bunch of JV scrubs on offense against the Indiana Pacers, the Cavs were finally able to figure it out against the Raptors.

During the series, the Cavs averaged 118.5 points (compared to 96.5 against the Pacers) and were able to get Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, George Hill, and JR Smith going as well. In the end, the Cavs swept the Raptors, making Toronto the worst #1 seed of all time.

lebron james jr, drake

Maybe it was just God’s plan. Maybe it was Donald Glover ripping everyone not named LeBron James on Saturday Night Live:

Either way, the Cavs made the Raptors go extinct. But, speaking of worst #1 seeds of all time, that title used to belong to the Cavs next opponent, the Boston Celtics.

Last season, the Cavs faced off against the Celtics and decimated them; winning the series 4-1. The biggest win for the Cavs came in game two where they connected on 19 three-pointers, beating the Celtics with their shillelagh.

This season, things are both different and the same for both squads. Before the season started, both teams made quite the stir when the Cavs traded Kyrie Irving to the Celtics. Boston also landed Gordon Hayward in free agency, and along with rookie Jayson Tatum, looked like the biggest threat to the Cavs. Then injuries struck for the Celtics, with both Hayward and Irving sidelined for the season, and the C’s had to battle through adversity and lean on their younger players to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Cavaliers also know all too well about adversity. They have dealt with plenty of well-reported drama, from Isaiah Thomas to soup-gate, and plenty of injuries themselves. Fun fact: the Cavs have seldom-played with a fully healthy roster all season. After looking lost in the first round against the Pacers and finally finding their form against the Raptors, the Cavs look primed for another battle in this classic NBA rivalry.

LeBron jaylen Brown Cavs Celtics Game 2 recap

Getty Images/ Elsa

Round 3: Boston Celtics (2) v. Cleveland Cavaliers (4)

During the regular season, the Cavaliers won the series 2-1 over the Celtics. The biggest win came in Boston to the tune of 121-99, where the trade deadline additions made their much-awaited debut:

Unlike their matchup against the Pacers, plenty of Wine and Golders came to play in the sweep of the Raptors. Riding off a hot streak against another hot team, it will be a battle every game between both the starters and the bench units. Here are the likely starting matchups heading into Sunday afternoon:

As mentioned before, both the Cavs and the Celtics are two of the hottest team in basketball. This is because both team’s starting point guards have been on a tear lately. Terry Rozier, aka Scary Terry, has been the star shining brightest for the Celtics. Through two rounds Rozier is averaging 18.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. He has been sensational in relief of Kyrie Irving and will be the Cavs’ biggest headache on defense.

Meanwhile, Hill was outstanding against the Raptors after dealing with nagging back problems in round one. Hill averaged 10.3 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and outstanding defense on both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. He also hurt DeRozan’s feelings a few times throughout the series, too:

Hill was given the tough task of containing both Lowry and DeRozan and rose to the occasion. His defense will be needed yet-again against Rozier. Hill’s tenacious defense will negate Rozier’s impact enough to make the starting point guard battle a draw.

At the other guard, it will be a dual between Kyle Korver, one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time, and Jaylen Brown, a stout defender, and rising star. Through two rounds, Brown has averaged 16.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 0.8 steals. Korver has averaged 10.5 points (hitting 46.2% of his three-point attempts), 2.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists.

For the Celtics, Brown will likely be given the task of being the primary defender on LeBron James. This will provide a huge wrinkle for the Cavs, who can exploit Kyle Korver on mismatches from beyond the arc. Brown also has been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury that may be a problem against the Cavs. If the Cavs get Korver rolling, he will be the difference maker. But, the Celtics also have a few stalwart defenders on their bench as well that can contain him. This battle is also a draw.

Besides Rozier, the other hottest Celtics lately has been the rookie phenom, Jayson Tatum. Through two rounds, Tatum has averaged 18.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. Like his coach, Tatum will likely not get any end-season awards, but he has looked nothing like a rookie in the playoffs.

Well, Tatum’s primary matchup will be against the Pipemaster himself, JR Smith. Smith really poured it on against the Raptors, with averages of 12.5 points (connecting on 76.9% of his three-pointers), 1.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and a heartwarming interview with former teammate Richard Jefferson:

Smith has had a hot hand, a lot like Korver, but will really have to step it up this round on Tatum. With the Celtics being so strong on defense, they will have their work cut out against Smith. With Smith being so streaky, and Tatum being so consistent, the Celtics win the battle at small forward.

The next battle with is at the power forward spot between Marcus Morris and LeBron James. Morris is getting the start over Aron Baynes, the only human who still thinks man buns are still cool. Morris matches up better against James and has averaged 12.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.2 assists.

James, on the other hand, has so far had the best playoff performance of his entire career with averages of 34.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 7.7 assists. James also did his annual heart transplant by ripping out Raptors fans’ hearts last round:

The Celtics trying to survive the onslaught of James is pretty comparable to the Avengers trying to stop Thanos from getting the Infinity Stones. Well, if you saw Infinity Wars, it is pretty safe to assume that the Celtics will not be feeling so good. The big purple monster himself best sums up the Celtics chances against James:

By now, it is pretty clear the Cavs win the battle every time when LeBron James is on the floor.

To round out the starting unit battle, at the center spot it is two natural power forwards in Kevin Love and Al Horford banging it out. Horford has remained constantly steady for the Celtics with playoff averages of 18.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Love, after struggling against the Pacers, turned it on against the Raptors with averages of 20.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 blocks, and 1.0 steals in the second round.

It is vital for the Cavs to get Love going against the Celtics, and they have a good chance of accomplishing that. When the Cavs pair Love with Tristan Thompson, it completely negates Horford and will help exploit plenty of matchups to get the best power forward in the East going. Due to this, the Cavs win the battle at the center spot.

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Beyond the starters, the bench battle is also a curious case. For the Celtics, the primary bench options are Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, and Aron Baynes. As mentioned before, Baynes is mostly a warm body to provide some rebounding, and will not be much of a factor. Smart and Ojeleye, on the other hand, are both stalwart defenders and will mostly be used to try and stop the high-octane Cavaliers offense.

The Cavs bench, meanwhile, is more known for its offense instead of defense. Jeff Green, Jordan Clarkson, Tristan Thompson, and ether Rodney Hood or Cedi Osman will all see minutes with the reserves. As mentioned before, Thompson will provide his usual defense and rebounding, and will negate Horford.

Green will be vital against his old team and averaged 9.7 points and 2.0 rebounds against the Celtics this season. If Green is on, he will see a fair share of minutes. But, Green has also had a few stinkers in the playoffs, and will likely be on a short leash.

The biggest X-factor off the bench will be Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson has largely been a disappointment in the playoffs for the Cavs, but there may be a silver lining when playing the Celtics. In his Cavs debut, Clarkson went off for 17 points, 1 assist, and 3 rebounds:

Clarkson has also averaged 19.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists against the Celtics this season. Getting him going against the Celtics will be huge and will just make the offense even more dynamic.

The question mark for the Cavs’ bench is between Cedi Osman and Rodney Hood. Hood has been in headlines for all the wrong reasons lately for refusing to come off the bench in the team’s series-clinching win over the Raptors. Hood has been pretty subpar in the playoffs and has lost his role to rookie swingman Cedi Osman. Hood has since apologized to his teammates, but it will be interesting to see who Lue rolls with between both players.

While the Celtics defensive studs are impressive, the Cavs’ offensive punch is even better. The Cavs win the bench battle pretty easily.

The final battle between the Cavs and the Celtics is between the two men who carry the clipboards. Brad Stevens is easily the best coach in the Eastern Conference and is quickly becoming the best overall coach in the entire Association. He has taken a Celtics squad that many thought were dead in the water, and led them to an overall record of 55-27 this season.

Tyronn Lue, Jayson Tatum

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Tyronn Lue, meanwhile, has become a bit of a walking meme, especially in the regular season. But, it appears to be a case of Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to the playoffs. Lue has shown his knack as a defensive-minded coach when he locks in against certain teams and it has shown with his schemes on Victor Oladipo and DeMar DeRozan. He will have a tall task in building a plan to contain the plucky Celtics, but Cavs fans should have faith.

While Stevens is quite an impressive coach, he still cannot get past the Tyronn Lue-led Cavaliers. Overall, Lue has a regular season record of 5-3, and also decimated the Celtics last year in the NBA Playoffs. Stevens cannot seem to figure out the Cavs, and Lue may be a part of it. This brings down Stevens’ overall standing against Lue to the point where the matchup evens out.

So, after comparing starting units, bench mobs, and head coaches, the Cavaliers have a slight lead. While they are hot after sweeping the Raptors, the Cavs should not take the injury-ravaged Celtics lightly. They are a talented team who decimated the Philadelphia 76ers last round, whose strong defensive identity will give the Cavs problems. They will likely steal a game or two from the Cavs due to their combination of both youth and stalwart defense.

The thing is, the Cavaliers have LeBron James who will decimate the Celtics much like Thanos did to the Avengers. The Celtics… have the Cavs’ respect and the people of Earth will remember them. They simply cannot stop LeThanos, who has already collected the Mind Stone (Pacers), the Reality Stone (Raptors), and will soon collect the Time Stone (Celtics).

Final prediction: Cavs win series 4-2