All the talk of the Cleveland Cavaliers needing rest gets thrown out the window when they sweep 2 straight series and play 8 games in 30 days. There is now more talk about the Cavaliers being rusty from being off for so long. They are still currently in wait and see mode, while at the same time getting some rest and some much-needed practices they were unable to get during the end of the year for multiple reasons.
The only semifinal match-up remaining, between the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, concludes tonight and the Cavaliers will finally know their opponent and will permit them to hone in on a specific opponent. With that series concluding tonight, let us take a look at both of the potential opponents.
The Boston Celtics came into the playoffs as the top dog, the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics are led by the smallest player in the NBA, Isaiah Thomas. Thomas leads the team in scoring and assists per game. He also leads the league in 4th quarter scoring, averaging just over 10 points per 4th quarter. This results in the Celtics also being the highest scoring 4th quarter team in the entire league. The shifty Thomas is the team leader giving them over 25 points per game, but he has Al Horford and Avery Bradley alongside him giving him some scoring support. The pair contribute individually just over 16 points per game, which is right on average for Bradley and just over 2 points more per game from Horford compared to his regular season average.
So, the story for the Celtics in the playoffs has been pretty similar to their regular season. They are a much different team with Thomas on the floor. They are much more aggressive when he is on the floor and initiating the offense. They have a great offensive flow, averaging over 27 assists per game, most of those coming with Thomas on the floor. They play their best when they are playing as a collective unit and stay away from not trying to do it on their own. The make-up of the team is that of a team that needs every piece on the team to contribute to be successful.
When the Celtics run into trouble is when Thomas has to take his breaks throughout the game. If someone is not having a great individual game offensively or initiating the offense, the second unit starts to drag, permitting the team to either cut into the lead or extend the lead. The other major weakness the Celtics have is team rebounding. They only have 2 guys that average over 6 rebounds per game, which is last of the remaining teams in the playoffs. The rebounding will need to be cleaned up if they advance, and that will have to be a collective effort against a team who has great individual rebounders. If they are to advance they will have to do a much better job at limiting offensive rebounds and find consistent scoring with their second unit to give themselves a chance in the series.
The Washington Wizards for part of the season were the second-best team in the Eastern Conference and many times this playoff season has looked like the second-best team in the east, but the record does not necessarily show that. The Wizards are led by guard combo John Wall and Bradley Beal. This guard combo is thought to be the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference and one of the best in the entire league. Wall is considered by many to be the best all-around point guard in the Eastern Conference and top 5 in the entire league. As much as Isaiah Thomas does for the Celtics, Wall does that and more for the Wizards. He has averaged just under 28 points per game in the playoffs and just over 10 assists per game. He is many times a "1-man fast break" and has improved defensively. Beal has done a great job supporting Wall, scoring just under 24 points per game and contributing just as much defensively, many times taking the match-up with the opponents best guard.
The Wizards are similar to the Celtics, but they tend to have more support from their role players such as Markieff Morris and Otto Porter Jr. This supporting duo gives the Wizards just under 24 points per game combined and are the teams 2nd and 3rd best rebounders behind center Marcin Gortat. Gortat is the teams only double digit rebounder, grabbing 11 rebounds per game, with just over 4 of those per game being on the offensive end of the floor.
The Wizards are at their best when Wall and Beal are super aggressive and get the rest of the offense involved. They are a great fast break team with Wall and Beal running the floor with athletic big man, Marcin Gortat. They have a great shooter in Otto Porter Jr., who was the 8th best 3-point shooter over the entirety of the season. Porter at one point was shooting over 50% from three, but has cooled off a little since, but is still shooting 42% from behind the line.
Where the Wizard get themselves into trouble is when they are not turning teams over. When teams are efficient against them they tend to have a hard time scoring in the half-court offense. Unless Wall or Beal are scoring, they have a hard time scoring points when teams are able to get back and get their defensive schemes set-up. Another area they tend to struggle in is the defensive end of the floor. Teams tend to have a pretty easy time scoring in their half-court offense. If the Wizards are to advance they will have to find a way to force turnovers in their half-court defense to get out in transition and score. They will also have to find a way to force tough shots, which is easier said than done against Cleveland.
The Cavaliers will be favored in the series, no matter who wins the series between Boston and Washington. The Cavaliers, who many were worried about at the end of the regular season, seem to be starting to find their stride, which is scary for opponents. It may not be a matter of if the Cavaliers advance to finals, but when, whether that be 4 games or 7. The Eastern Conference Finals will tip off Wednesday May 17, with game 1 taking place in Boston if the Celtics are to advance to the Conference Finals. Game 1 would take place in Cleveland, if the Wizards are to come out on top tonight and punch their ticket to their first Conference Finals in 37 years.