Boston Celtics: 5 keys to conference finals vs. Cavaliers

Jo Caldwell
May 13, 2018

The Cleveland Cavaliers cruised through last season's Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the Boston Celtics in just five games.

The Celtics survived the loss of their two best players during the regular season - Gordon Hayward on Opening Night and Kyrie Irving in March - with both evolution and doubling down on their strengths. "We're doing good and we play better when our back is against the wall".

Rozier, who said he "thinks" Irving will make the trip when the series shifts to Cleveland next Saturday, has been absorbing as much as possible from his mentor.

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But as it stands, it's not clear whether James would even leave Cleveland.

And the 33-year-old freight train is playing as well at any point of his Hall of Fame career, averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 9.0 assists in 11 playoff games. And in a tight game, there is seemingly no chance he'll miss an important shot. However, I'd love to see Stevens get creative and throw Horford or Smart at LeBron for a few minutes a game. "Did some more treatment, get ready for Tuesday".

But there is no one-on-one defender in the league who can truly limit LeBron James, with the possible exception of Kawhi Leonard, and daring him to beat you is a risky game. If LeBron continues to bend the game in his favor at will, it won't matter what Brad Stevens draws up on the whiteboard. He's known Tatum for years; the rookie's godfather is James' former teammate, Larry Hughes, and is also a cousin of Tyronn Lue. Unlike the rest of us, he won't enjoy it.

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Kevin Love finally arrived in the second round, and Kyle Korver has proven to be a solid third option for the Cavs. Their power-struggle for control of the Eastern Conference has spanned over the course of two different generations. "We feel very confident with our second unit, playing them, going against whoever, Whether it's Cleveland, Indiana, whoever it is". "He's been out since the first quarter of Game 1, so it's like do we even know who they would have (become)?"

The Cavaliers took the regular-season series over the Celtics, 2-1, with one of those wins coming at the TD Garden in Boston. But what does look so familiar is Cleveland and Boston once again sharing center stage, a place they've occupied together for an entire year.

But there are a number of players who have height, length and power in this league, so there must be something else that allows him to stand apart. Love averaged 20.5 points per game in the second round, shooting almost 48% from the field. (The Celtics were 1-point favorites; they won 114-112.) A bettor who placed a $100 bet on the Celtics to win the series before it started would have won $325, given that the Celtics were +325 underdogs to win the series. The young genius exposed Ben Simmons in the last round and he'll expose the Cavs' weaknesses too. If Horford shuts down Love on defense and continues to make all the right plays that make him Boston's best player, then Cleveland looks more like the team that was outscored by IN than the one that steamrolled Toronto. Boston lost their top two players to season-ending injuries, and Cleveland traded almost half their roster in February. The need to develop an away-from-the-basket game, however, is the angle whose urgent necessity was most driven home in the Sixers' last series of the season.

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It's down to two teams out east with Game 1 of the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals tipping off Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Still, it was an early indication that the 2017-'18 Celtics would be a tough, resilient group that refused to adopt a wait-till-next-year attitude. They've been elite in Boston, winning all seven games there with an 8.3 net rating.

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