Another season, another Eastern Conference Finals appearance for LeBron James. When the ECF tips off on Wednesday night at the TD Garden in Boston, it will mark the seventh consecutive ECF appearance for "King James". That record speaks volumes for a player who has been lucky enough to stay relatively healthy throughout the first 13 years of his career. What's more remarkable is that the King is just four wins away from appearing in his seventh straight NBA Finals. You'd have to go back over 50+ years to find a group of Celtics players that made the Finals in six straight seasons. However, back then it was just an 11-team league, with only six teams making the playoffs. Whether you support LeBron or hate him, I'm sure we can all agree that we won't see a player like LeBron for a long time.
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Another player we are privileged to be watching right now is Isaiah Thomas. The diminutive 5-foot-9 point-guard has put the team on his back, and with the of support from an unlikely source in Kelly Olynyk the Celtics were able to sneak by the Washington Wizards in seven games. A case can be made that the Wizards were the better team in each game but that they couldn't finish the deal. The Wizards blew big early leads in both Game 1 and 2 in Boston. If the Celtics find themselves behind early against a much better team like the Cavaliers, this could be a very short series.
For what it's worth, this Cavaliers' team wasn't supposed to be this dominant. Many experts said this was the year the Cavaliers were most vulnerable to getting knocked out of the playoffs early on. The experts were very wrong on that account. The Cavs own a perfect 8-0 record, and aside from Game 3 in Indiana (Round 1), where they had to come back from a 20-point first half deficit, the Cavs were in control of every single game. So much so that during the Toronto series, they even let the Raptors have a lead in Game 4 before flipping the switch and winning by seven.
In terms of betting this series, Bovada has tabbed the Cavaliers as heavy -650 series favorites, while the Celtics check in at +475. Game 1 of this best-of-seven series has Cleveland set as 3.5-point favorites , with the total sitting at 219.5 -110. If you are looking past this round, you can get the Cavs at +275 to defend their title and the Celtics at +2500.
The Boston Celtics' offense is the third best or second last (depending how you want to look at it) of the teams still in the postseason in terms of points per game as they average 107.1 a night. The Celtics are also one of the best teams in The Association in getting assists, ranking first in the postseason and averaging more than 27 dimes. They also knock down the three-ball well (13 makes per game, second overall). The only real knock on this Celtics team is that they aren't too solid in the paint, both on the offensive and defensive glass, hauling in just 38.3 boards on average, which ranks them 13th out of all 16 playoff teams overall. Individually, the Celtics are led by their all-star, Thomas. The diminutive point-guard averaged 25.4 points and 6.5 assists per game over the course of 13 playoff games. He is shooting 44 percent from the floor, which puts him up there among the leagues elite scorers. Four other Celtics averaged in double-figures in the regular season, with Avery Bradley averaging 16.3, Al Horford 14.1, Jae Crowder 13.9 and Marcus Smart 10.6.
The Cavaliers offense hasn't hit its full stride yet, which is a scary thought for their opponents. Led by LeBron James, the Cavaliers have averaged 114.5 points per game, which is good enough for second overall, just a point back of Golden State. The Cavaliers lead the playoffs in field goal percentage (49), three-pointers made (14.4), three-point field goal percentage (43.4), and free throw attempts (26.8). To say this is a well-oiled machine would be an understatement. Not only can James hurt you from anywhere on the court, the supporting cast of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver and Channing Frye has defenses baffled on how to defend this team. James is averaging 34.4 points on 55.4 percent shooting. He's knocking down almost three triples per game and dishing out seven dimes. He has been a beast so far this postseason, and with Irving averaging 23.8 and 5.8 and Love averaging 13.8, this team is nearly un-guardable.
Defensively, the Celtics own the better numbers. They give up a shade over 103 points per game while the Cavaliers give up 105. That has the Cavaliers ranked last out of the four remaining teams in the playoffs. Numbers aside, Celtics' fans should be very concerned with who is going to try their hand at guarding LeBron James. I expect Jae Crowder to get the first crack at slowing down the King, but I don't believe he has the athleticism to keep up. If the C's go with a more athletic defender like Gerald Green, James is smart enough to use his size advantage and do most of his work from in the paint. On the flip side, the Celtics would be smart to exploit Irving's defensive liabilities. Irving is a great offensive player, but if Thomas can out play him, get him in foul trouble and make him spend more energy on the defensive side of the court, the Celtics might find a formula to slowing the Cavs down.
Let's all be realistic for a moment. At the beginning of the season, the majority of basketball fans expected to witness the rubber match between the Cavaliers and Warriors in the NBA Finals. Sure, both teams have had times this year where they slumped and looked disinterested, but I feel like they had their pulse on the bigger picture - getting to the Finals unscathed. The Warriors will beat the Spurs and the Cavaliers will hold up their end of the deal and take care of the Celtics. Believe me, I don't want the Cavaliers to win, but they are simply the better team from top to bottom. Isaiah Thomas has done incredible things so far this season. and after the personal tragedy he suffered in Round 2 he continued to put the team before himself. I applaud that. If there really are such things as basketball gods, they would reward him and help him earn a trip to the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, I don't think there are, and the Cavaliers will advance in five games.
Pick: Cavaliers in five.
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