After beating the Washington Wizards in a thrilling game 7, and winning the NBA draft lottery, the Boston Celtics are heading to the Eastern Conference finals. Waiting for them ,will be a very rested Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland basically ceded the No. 1 seed to Boston at the tail end of the regular season, electing to rest starters to gear up for a postseason run. The Cavs did this strategically, believing they can beat any opponent in the conference without relying on home-court advantage. It was a risk, but the organization believed it was the right move with sights set so high so high that anything less than a third-straight trip to the NBA Finals would be a massive disappointment.
Ironically, the last Eastern conference team to beat LeBron James, is the same team standing in his way now, the upstart Boston Celtics. While the Celtics may lack the star power of their opponent, this is a deep team that can throw plenty of different looks at you on both ends of the court and make things interesting from start to finish.
Boston has talent and a burgeoning confidence in winning eight of 11 games since its 0-2 start against Chicago. Thomas is enough of a novelty player that he could go off and grab a game or two almost by himself. And if the Celtics can play with pace and force enough misses, they could exploit Cleveland’s creaky transition defense.
Will Home court Advantage Matter?
Depends on how you frame it. Starting the series at home, having four games in friendly confines rather than three and knowing that a decisive game seven would be on your favorite parquet hardwood all are niceties on the Celtics’ side of the table. All Cleveland has to do, though, is take game one and the whole thing shifts. Game seven? It might not even last that long. For the record, Boston was pretty good on the road (23-18) this season and even better at home (30-11), upping their points per game by 3.0 at the Garden. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, were sub-.500 on the road (20-21).
Can Anyone Slow Down Lebron James?
Jae Crowder is best-equipped physically to bang around for long minutes. Marcus Smart certainly has the grit to try, Gerald Green might come closest athletically and any variety or combo of Boston defenders could draw the unenviable duty at times. But James and the Cavs will have something to say about it, too, based on the way he managed to find Indiana’s poor Jeff Teague time and again through pick-and-roll switches. Isaiah Thomas will want no part of this. Let us not kid ourselves. Nobody is slowing down LeBron James but expect Boston to throw a lot of their big men on him.
Series Prediction: The Celtics have had a tremendous season — and their future got even brighter with Tuesday’s news that they’ll get the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. They have the brightest outlook of any NBA team besides the Golden State Warriors, and could one day dethrone James and the Cavaliers.
With all that said, the Celtics could get a game and that’s about it. Cleveland will win the series in five games.