The Boston Celtics have defied expectations and the odds. Not only did they make the playoffs without Gordon Hayward, they have played the entire postseason also without Kyrie Irving. Much has been talked about Celtics’ head coach Brad Stevens’ brilliant mind but more than Stevens’ game plan, it’s been this young and gritty team’s ability to execute and play under pressure that has kept them winning in the playoffs.
Boston was expected to struggle with the Greek Freak in round 1 but they beat the Bucks rather easily. Then when experts picked the Sixers over them in round 2, the took a quick 3-0 lead and put away the Sixers in five games. Enter the Eastern Conference Finals and many expected the Cleveland Cavaliers to have a walk in the park against the injury-riddled Celtics.
Cleveland struggled with their revamped line-up in the first round and needed a Game 7 to oust the stubborn Indiana Pacers. But the Cavs showed their might in round 2 as they swept the second best team in the NBA and the Eastern Conference top seeds Toronto Raptors. Cleveland was so dominating that many believed that the playoff tested King James and his new court would just run over the inexperienced Celtics squad.
But the Celtics came into Game 1 playing like a team possessed. Boston took over the game with a 21-4 run in the first quarter of Game 1. They led by 18 at the end of the first quarter and had more points after one period than the Cavs had the entire first half.
Making matters worse for the Cavs was the fact that LeBron James played his worst game of the current postseason. James has been nothing short of royalty in these 2018 playoffs. But in Game 1, James committed 7 turnovers and with their main man struggling, the rest of the team reverted to the Cavs team that played the Pacers in Round 1.
With Boston threatening to take a 2-0 lead, the Cavs must fight for dear life. Teams that go up 2-0 in a best of seven playoff series have a 278-19 record all-time and since 2012, only five teams have come back from a 0-2 series deficit to win any playoff series. With the odds brutal, The Cavs are in a must win situation.
Will King James step up as he’s always done for the Cavs? Or will the Celtics continue their hot streak at home? Check out the odds, our preview and pick for Game 2 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.
Everything in Cleveland begins and ends with LeBron James. The King has averaged a monster 32.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per game in the current postseason. James has hit two game winning buzzer beaters in the playoffs, one in each round. He’s had a triple double in each round and has scored over 40 points four times.
But when he’s not on, the Cavs have either struggled or lost. James scored no more than 24 points in three of their four playoff losses. In those three losses, he also failed to shoot more than 43.8% from the field. So if the Cavs want a chance at equaling the series, they may need another herculean effort from King James.
With James playing his worst game of the playoffs, his teammates also struggled. Cleveland was outrebounded 48-40 and out-assisted 27-18. They also made only 31 of 86 shots from the field or a paltry 36%. With their numbers going south, the Cavs got blown out in Game 1.
The Cavs starters were outscored by 42 points in Game 1, the worst by a LeBron led team in the playoffs. Kevin Love, who averaged 25 points and 11 rebounds in the last three games before Game 1, only had 17 points and 8 rebounds while shooting 5-14 from the floor. Even if James has a big game in Game 2, Love must come through and give his King the much needed support.
The Cavs missed their first 14 three pointers of the game and finished shooting 4-26 or 15.4% from behind the arc. For them to beat the Celtics who have been red hot at the TD Garden during these playoffs, guys like Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith must make their threes. The two were a combined 1-8 in Game 1.
If there was a ray of sunshine for the Cavs in Game 1, it was that Rodney Hood scored 11 points and Jordan Clarkson adding 10 markers. Cleveland has had to rely heavily on their starters in the playoffs and if both Clarkson and Hood can continue to contribute and the starters do their jobs, then Cleveland should be in good shape.
Without Hayward and Irving, the third all-star in Boston has taken charge. Many people forget that Al Horford was an all-star before moving to Boston. He’s making everyone remember that now. Horford was nearly unstoppable against the Sixers and he delivered the big baskets when the Celtics needed. In Game 1, Horford was in his element again, scoring 20 points on 8-10 shooting in just 27 minutes of action. But it’s not just been Horford. Everybody else is stepping up in Boston.
Sophomore Jaylen Brown had an excellent scoring game with a team high 23 points including three triples. Rookie Jayson Tatum’s streak of seven consecutive playoff games with at least 20 points ended in Game 1. But more than struggles, the reason why he missed another 20 point night was because it was an early blowout. Still, Tatum looks to be the X-factor in the series. Where he goes, Boston follows. So if the Cavs want a shot, they need to stop this super rookie.
Terry Rozier had his lowest scoring game of the playoffs in Game 1 with only 8 points. It was also his first playoff game this year without a three pointer. Knowing how Rozier burned the nets in Boston in Rounds 1 & 2, Scary Terry is likely to bounce back in Game 2.
Cleveland’s game plan is simple: Give the ball to LeBron James and let him make the plays. But stopping James is easier said and done, the Pacers and Raptors learned that the hard way. Boston has an ace though in Marcus Morris, whose claim of being the best LeBron defender outside Kawhi Leonard drew ridicule at first.
But after limiting James to 5 points on 2-6 shooting in 24 plays with Morris are primary defender, many are paying attention now. Whether it was Morris defense or James merely having a bad night, we don’t really know for sure. But one thing we know is this: Boston is perfect at their home floor this postseason.
Celtics are 8-0 at home in the playoffs and 1-4 on the road. Boston is averaging 110.5 points per game at home and only 94.6 points per game on the road. The difference can be attributed to three point shooting. Boston is shooting 41% of their threes at home and just 31% away from the TD Garden.
This isn’t just Boston having a hot streak though because they are three wins away from the NBA Finals. Brad Stevens has been pulling the right strings and his team has responded in the best way possible. The Cavs looked spectacular in Round 2 but reverted to first round Cavs in Game 1. Unless Cleveland hits their three pointers, they can’t beat the Celtics.
To beat Boston, you must stop too many guys. To beat Cleveland, Boston only has to stop LeBron James. Now which one is difficult? Boston may be star-less but balance has been their strength. Cleveland can’t say the same. Look for Rozier to regain his form and LeBron to struggle finding help. We’re picking the Boston Celtics to win Game 2.
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