May. 14, 2018
Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Cavaliers Face Celtics with Fourth Consecutive Trip to Finals on the Line
At the beginning of the season, the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers would have been the likely two picks to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals vying for a shot to go to the NBA Finals. But then Cleveland never seemed to find a consistent mojo in the regular season and the Boston Celtics were faced with a rash of injuries to their stars. Nonetheless, both teams managed to find a path here and will fight for a spot in the NBA Finals.
Can the Celtics avenge last season's defeat against the Cavs in the Conference Finals and reach the NBA Finals with their young core? Will LeBron James make his eighth consecutive NBA Finals and fourth with the Cavs? With an up and coming Celtics squad and Cavaliers team familiar with this stage, this is a crash course for a great series.
How They Got Here: Boston Celtics
After losing Gordon Hayward for the year mere minutes into the 2018 season, it seemed like the Celtics were headed for disaster in a season that was filled with high hopes. Lucky for them, rookie Jayson Tatum, second-year player Jayson Tatum, and star Kyrie Irving helped lead the Celtics to a 55-27 record. They finished second in the Eastern Conference and drew a matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. However, they were without Kyrie Irving who underwent season-ending surgery on his knee and Marcus Smart until Game 5 of the series. Boston took advantage of controlling home-court and grinded out a series victory in seven games. Their four wins all came at the TD Garden, games in which the Celtics controlled for a majority of them. On the road was a different story, Boston could not get a win on the road and lost two of the three games by double-digits. The one outlier was Game 4 in which they made a late comeback that fell short. They finished the first round going 0-3 on the road, 4-0 at home, and advanced to face the young Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers came in having beaten the Miami Heat in five games, giving them a slight advantage when it came to being rested for the next round. However, the Celtics did not miss a beat against Philadelphia and took them out in five games. Terry Rozier played a huge role in this series and Boston continued their dominance at home taking the first two games of the series. The two young squads battled it out in Game 3 with the Celtics emerging victorious in overtime by a final of 101-98 to go up 3-0 in the series. But the Sixers and Joel Embiid would not go down easily, beating the Celtics by 11 in Game 4 to force a Game 5 in Boston. Although it came down to the final seconds, Boston knocked out the Sixers in Game 5, 114-112 to advance to the Conference Finals. They are currently 8-4 in the playoffs, a 2018 NBA Playoff leading 7-0 at home and a poor 1-4 on the road. But the big thing is the are utilizing their home-court advantage and winning games on their home floor. If the young guns like Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown continue to perform the way they have, Boston could be headed for the NBA Finals.
How They Got Here: Cleveland Cavaliers
After a third straight NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, the Cavaliers made some offseason moves in hopes of returning to the Finals again. However, the trading of Kyrie Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas did not work out and he ended up being traded to the Lakers later in the year. In fact, Cleveland's up and down year resulted in six players being traded away at the deadline and four being traded to them. It resulted in them finishing 50-32 which gave them fourth in the Eastern Conference with a matchup against the Indiana Pacers. A stunning Game 1 loss made many wonder if the Cavs would be able to make it back and after falling down 2-1 to the Pacers, things seemed grim for Cleveland. However, despite having little to no help from role players like Kyle Korver, JR Smith, and Tristan Thompson through the series, Cleveland found a way. LeBron James played out of his mind with a little help from Kevin Love to help Cleveland win three of the next four games in the series to move on and face the Toronto Raptors.
Unlike the first round, LeBron James got help from his role players and the Cavaliers continued their dominance against the Raptors in the playoffs. Coming into this series, the Cavs were 8-2 against Toronto in the playoffs, winning in the semifinals last year 4-0 and in the Conference Finals 4-2 in 2016. After LeBron James led a comeback to steal Game 1 from the Raptors in overtime, Cleveland did not face much resistance from Toronto after that. Game 3 was the only other game that came down to the wire due to a late comeback by the Raptors, but a LeBron James floater sealed the deal for a Cavs 105-103 victory. Other than that, the Cavaliers took Games 2 and 4 by double-digits and cruised to a series sweep for the second straight year in the playoffs. Through the first two rounds, the Cavaliers have an 8-3 record, 5-1 at home, and 3-2 on the road.
Eastern Conference Finals: Celtics-Cavaliers
After overcoming adversity throughout the regular season and grinding it out in the first round of the playoffs, both of these teams have proven they deserve to be where they are now. What this series will likely come down to is experience, something that the Cavaliers have plenty of. While the Celtics rising stars have performed tremendously in the absence of their stars, it will be hard to sustain that against a veteran team like Cleveland. But the thing about the Celtics is they will have home-court advantage which can play a big role in the way a series sways. With Boston boasting a 7-0 record at home this postseason, the Cavaliers may have to come away with a road victory in Games 1 or 2 to take hold of home-court advantage. However, if LeBron James continues to play at the level he has all postseason and he gets help from the role players like he did against the Raptors, Cleveland will steamroll the C's with ease. In the regular season, Cleveland won two out of three games against Boston with one win at home and one on the road.
Boston has been as good as a young team can be after losing two of their biggest stars. Their players have stepped up all season and have continued to step up in the clutch during the first two rounds of the playoffs. But how sustainable is that production and can they do it against the league's best player in LeBron James. I like the energy and confidence this Celtics team has played with all postseason, they definitely will not go down without a fight should they fall to the Cavaliers. I cannot stress enough how important it will be for them to use their home-court advantage in this series. The Cavaliers may be 3-2 on the road, but when their role players come alive they are hard to beat. I expect a much tighter series than last year, but I do not believe it will translate to a six or seven game series. While I may be vastly underestimating Brad Stevens ability to rally his team together, I believe experience wins out in the series and we see another rematch between the Cavaliers and Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Prediction: Cavaliers in 5
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