Well, the waiting is all over for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They finally know their Eastern Conference Finals opponent, the Boston Celtics, who advanced after a 115-105 game 7 victory over the Washington Wizards. The Eastern Conference Finals will lay out as follows:
Wednesday May 17 Game 1 at Boston, 8:30 p.m. TNT
Friday May 19 Game 2 at Boston, 8:30 p.m. TNT
Sunday May 21 Game 3 at Cleveland, 8:30 p.m. TNT
Tuesday May 23 Game 4 at Cleveland, 8:30 p.m. TNT
Thursday May 25 Game 5* at Boston, 8:30 p.m. TNT
Saturday May 27 Game 6* at Cleveland, 8:30 p.m. TNT
Monday May 29 Game 7* at Boston, 8:30 p.m. TNT
When it comes to playoff series, teams know that they will see the same team over the span of at least 4 games. This gives them a chance to hone in on what they want to do with their offensive and defensive schemes against the particular team. Until this point the Cavaliers had been working on game plans for both of their potential opponents and were not able to go into as much depth as they would like since they did not know who they were going to be playing.
The fact that they know their opponent now gives them the chance to strap down and start working on one specific game plan that will be geared toward the Celtics. More than likely as soon as the clock hit zero in game 7 of the Celtics/Wizards series, head coach Tryonn Lue started honing in on what his team was going to do against the Celtics. Being the veteran, professional team that they are,the Cavaliers do not need a whole lot of time to go over game plans for it to saturate. They have been here before and done it many times, some much more than others, but those with less experience have picked it up quick.
When you get to this point in the playoffs the teams remaining normally have many strengths and not many weaknesses or they would not be here. I will touch on both teams strengths and weaknesses, give a couple keys for each team throughout the series and give my prediction of who will punch their ticket to the NBA Finals.
Strengths- The Celtics have one of the best young point guards in all of basketball, Isaiah Thomas. Thomas is the smallest player in the league, but plays much bigger than that. His shifty, aggressive play has given many teams problems. He finds ways to score around the basket, even when there are much larger players in his path. When he is in attack mode it opens up other options the Celtics have, including Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and game 6 hero Kelly Olynyk, just to name a couple of their core pieces. They are shaped to be a team that everyone contributes for and if they do not get that they tend to struggle. They excel when they get contributions from players other than Thomas and Horford.
Weaknesses- The Celtics are top heavy, they have two scorers in Thomas and Horford who they get pretty consistent production from, but after that, it is on a game to game basis. They were one of the worst rebounding teams all season and that has not changed in the playoffs, as they are the worst rebounding team remaining in the playoffs. Al Horford is their leading rebounder with just over 7 boards a game. The only other player that grabs 6 boards or more a game is Jae Crowder. The do not have very many good individual rebounders, so if they are not rebounding as a team, they get out rebounded rather easy, and that will be a problem against Cleveland. The last glaring weakness is their lack of scoring when Thomas is on the bench and not facilitating. They do not have anyone that can consistently initiate the offense for the Celtics second unit.
Keys for Celtics
- How will Celtics defend Lebron James?
It is near impossible to defend Lebron James on a regular basis, because of his strength and driving ability. When he is shooting nearly 47% from 3-point range, he becomes even harder to guard. Jae Crowder will get the primary matchup, and the Celtics will surely try Marcus Smart and possibly even Gerald Green to stop James. They will need to do their best to limit how much James scores and facilitates. The more he gets his teammates involved can sometimes do more damage than when he is attacking and scoring, so limiting those opportunities will be a huge key.
- Team Rebounding
As mentioned previously, the Celtics are the worst rebounding team remaining in the playoffs and on paper give up a huge advantage to the Cavaliers. Al Horford must rebound more than he did in the regular season and the playoffs until this point. On top of that the Celtics must rebound as a team. If the Celtics lose the rebounding margin, they will surely lose the series, and it has a chance to get ugly quick if they do not keep that margin close.
- Second Unit Scoring/Scoring when Thomas sits
The Celtics did a great job in game 7 against the Wizards of getting scoring from their second unit when Isaiah Thomas takes his breathers. This will be one of the biggest keys as Cleveland has a great second unit who can continue to score when one of their big three takes a rest.
In order for the Celtics to have a fighting chance in this series, they need both Jae Crowder and Al Horford to play better than they have. Thomas will more than likely have to expand more energy than normal on the defensive end, which may lead to a drop in offensive production, so Crowder and Horford must pick up their offensive production for them to have a chance.
Strengths- First and foremost, they have the best player in the world, Lebron James. With James and the other two pieces of the big three, the Cavaliers get a majority of their scoring from these three. That is not to say that others do not score, but when you have three players that are that good, why not use them as much as possible. Offensively, the Cavaliers have the capability to make teams switch on screens all of the time, which leads to big time mismatches. If the Celtics switch any of their guards on to someone like James, they will more than likely get beaten up inside. The Cavaliers bench is playing better than it has all season. A month ago, I would have listed their bench as a weakness, but getting healthy and being able to play together has made a huge difference. Defensively, they do a pretty good job blitzing and trapping guards on the wings, which forces the role players to beat you.
Weaknesses- The Cavaliers have many players who are great offensively, but are not great defenders. They sometimes struggle to get stops on individual assignments. Offensively, they can sometimes get stagnant and try to play too much "hero ball". When you have great isolation players like James and Irving, you can fall in love with isolation plays, and they sometimes tend to fall into a trap of playing too much isolation. This will lead to stagnant offense and can many times affect their defense because they have to get back in transition and have struggled to do that this season.
Keys for Cavaliers
1.Make role players beat them
Isaiah can go out and score a lot of points, and can do it pretty efficiently at that. If the Cavaliers trap Thomas and make the role players beat them, they will give themselves a very good chance to come out on top in the series.
Cavaliers are the far superior rebounding team and if they continue that trend they will dominate the boards. Tristan Thompson has dominated in the rebounding aspect against Al Horford the past 2 playoff series they have matched up. Love and James will contribute big amounts of rebounds as well and if the rest of the team rebounds as a unit, they will easily outrebound the Celtics by a large margin.
3.Execute the game plan for as close to 48 minutes as possible
If the Cavaliers play their style of basketball on both ends of the floor, they will continue the dominate pace they are currently playing at. The Celtics cannot do a whole lot offensively or defensively to throw the Cavaliers off their game plan and if the Cavaliers stick to their plan they will not have a whole lot of problems in this series.
Many times, your x-factor is a role player that you think will be key in a series or game. My x-factor for this series is Lebron James. That may seem obvious, considering he is the best player in the world, but he does everything. He is a playmaker, a scorer, defender, rebounder and oh yea, he is a 6 foot 9 inch small forward. Hs is the ultimate x-factor of all x-factors. The team goes as he goes, which seems to be the Finals every year.
Even though Boston comes as the #1 seed, the Cavaliers are huge favorites in this series. The fact that the Cavaliers have Lebron James and the Celtics do not is enough for me in this series. The rebounding margin will be too much and the Celtics will not have enough to slow down James, Irving and Love. The Celtics are coming off a long 7 game series and the Cavs have been off for 9 days. This series has the chance to get real ugly if Boston does not find a way to keep their home games close. The Cavaliers will not only win the series, but I think they will win it in 4 games and punch their ticket to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season.