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Celtics Playoff Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

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Celtics fans everywhere are flying real goddamn high today, myself included. Between an exciting Game 7 win and winning last night’s Lottery, you could say things are all butterflies and lollipops right now. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a reality check is coming into town tonight, and its name is Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, the homer in me says you know what, things are so good at the moment and the Celts are on such a role that I’ve fully convinced myself they can win Game 1 tonight. CLE hasn’t played in about 3 months and we saw how that impacted GS, so who knows.

Despite being a #1 seed and at home, the Celtics are understandably underdogs in both this first game and this series. The Cavs haven’t lost yet this postseason and the Celtics have been their normal inconsistent selves, so it’s understandable. We heard guys like Isaiah and Jae after the Wizards series how everyone thought they would lose both the WSH and CHI series, and while I wouldn’t say that’s exactly true, when we look at this series, it is 100% true. Many think it’ll be a sweep, or a 5 game series at BEST. To be honest the Celtics are playing with house money in my opinion, they got to the stage we all thought they should reach, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things they can do to try and pull off what would be a pretty large upset given how that guy Lebron is currently playing.

We begin with taking a look at the Cavs roster

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This is far and away the most talented starting five the Celtics have faced so far this playoffs, and unlike WSH who was all starters and no bench, the Cavs don’t have that problem. GM Lebron built himself a pretty good team that will provide a number of challenges for this Celtics team. Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking about the time earlier this season in which the Celtics beat this Cavs team. Well remember, Kevin Love did not play in that game, and when he’s in the game it changes how the Celtics match up.

So far this playoffs the Cavs rank 2nd in FG%, 5th in 3PM, 1st in 3p%, 8th in FTM and FTA, 8th in PTS, and 7th in BLKs. Some would say this is not terrible. As dominant as those numbers are, even though their defense has somewhat improved, it’s not nearly as elite. Take a look

10th in opponent FG%, 8th in opponent 3PM and 3PA, 8th in opponent 3PT%, 8th in opponent TOs, 9th in opponent PTS. Now obviously these numbers are impacted by the fact that the Cavs have played just 8 games, and you could argue they are playing better than the numbers suggest.

Don’t feel bad if this all sounds a little overwhelming for the Celtics to handle. No team thus far has been able to, so why on earth should the Celtics have a chance to slow them down? Well, for one, this Celtics team is the best competition the Cavs will have faced thus far, and when you look at how they rank defensively so far, there is reason for hope.

4th in opponent FG%, 1st in opponent 3PM, 2nd in opponent 3PT%, 4th in opponent FTA, 2nd in opponent TO, 7th in opponent PTS.

Basically what this means is that the Celtics have been doing a fantastic job at defending the perimeter thus far in the playoffs. While they haven’t faced a three point shooting team yet like CLE, there’s no denying that their strength fits into what the Celtics do really well. That’s a positive.

This starting lineup I would imagine is going to force Brad to keep his rotations pretty much the same as what we just saw the last series, which means even though he was like a -35, we should see Amir continue to start. Defensively, the big question is going to be where do the Celtics hide Isaiah. Obviously with the starters, the answer there is JR Smith, and hopefully what that does is give JR the idea that he should do exactly what WSH did and take Isaiah to the post. See this is an area that JR really hasn’t gone to at all during the year. JR wants to stay outside and shoot threes, the minute you make him into a midrange shooter, his FG% plummets. He shot just 24% on mid range jumpers this season, and took only 3 fadeaway jumpers all year. The more CLE thinks they can exploit this mismatch by bringing JR into the post, the better things will be for the Celtics.

When it comes to guarding Lebron, I’m not sure what you can do to stop him, so really it’s about what you can do to slow him down. What you CAN’T do is repeat what happened towards the end of the year when Lebron did whatever he wanted. The second the Celtics back off him and allow him to get a running start, they just don’t have the strength to prevent him from getting to the rim at ease. This is why guys like Jae, Jaylen, Marcus or whoever is going to have to pick him up basically as soon as he crosses half court. It wouldn’t completely shock me if the Celtics went back to the old way of beating Lebron teams which is essentially allowing him to get 50 and stopping everyone else. It’s a tall task because this version of the Cavs is just a littttttle bit better than those previous BOS/CLE matchups, but the odds of completely stopping or even remotely slowing down Lebron are slim to none in my opinion.

Given that the Celtics are healthy, I think they’ll be much better at chasing guys like JR and Korver around screens to limit their open looks, and it should help they have film on Korver while he was with ATL because CLE uses him in a very similar fashion. Flare screens like you read about.

For the Celtics offensively, it would not shock me one bit to see CLE hide Kyrie the exact same way the Celtics hide Isaiah. I predict more JR Smith/Shumpert/Lebron on Isaiah than Kyrie, because that is a battle Kyrie doesn’t want. The Cavs have shown an ability to trap Isaiah better than almost any opponent they’ve faced this year, so Isaiah is going to have to take care of the basketball and have the same sort of timely passing this series like he had in Game 7. It will be very important that once Isaiah gets into the paint, he remember not to force things. In 2014, he didn’t do this and had a rough series. In their only win against CLE this year he did things like this

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Big, big difference. I also want to see the Celtics make Kevin Love actually have to play defense. That means get the ball to Horford out on the perimeter and cut off the ball to open up the lane and let Horford attack. Similar to what we saw against Lopez/Gortat. Horford has been the most consistent offensive player this playoffs, and at no point in his career has Love been considered a plus defender. The Celtics may not be able to get Lebron in foul trouble, but they absolutely can take Love out of this game which drastically improves their chances.

Another challenge the Celtics are going to have to figure out is something they are used to doing to other teams with Al Horford. Since Love is going to play out on the perimeter, this takes the Celtics best rebounder away from the basket at times. This is a problem because it allows Tristan Thompson to do what he has done seemingly every time these two teams play, and that’s own the offensive glass. How well Amir can defensive rebound gives me a little bit of anxiety, and what is the other option? Tyler Zeller? Olynyk? The Celtics are going to need Avery/Marcus/Jae to ALL make a conscious effort to help rebound, or the Celts are going to be in a tough spot.

Look I don’t want this to be taken the wrong way. The Celtics are going to have to play pretty close to flawless basketball just to have a competitive series. If they play like Game 5 and Game 7, this will not be a sweep. If they play like Games 3 and 4, it will not be pretty, simple as that. Much like the WSH series, mental toughness is going to be a gigantic thing for this team. Lebron isn’t going to be called for fouls, and he’s going to get every touch foul you can imagine. Plays aren’t going to go the Celtics way, and the Cavs are obviously going to go on runs. How the Celtics are able to maintain their composure will go a long way in determining their fate.

Out of any game in this series, tonight is without a doubt the Celtics best chance to pull out a win. That doesn’t mean they will, but this is why that #1 seed was so important. They need their role players to be at their absolute best, and the chances of that happening at home as opposed to in CLE are so much higher. Just look at how things went in the last series. While it’s true home court shouldn’t matter to a team with Lebron James, it does matter for everyone else on CLE. Win this game tonight and show that CLE does in fact bleed, who knows what can happen.

So what do I think happens? Well, much like the rest of you, I thought it would be a dream scenario if the Celtics won 2 games this series, but then the Lottery happened and this was brought to my attention

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So let’s get fucking NUTS

Greenie Pick: Celtics in 7 because fuck Lebron. LET’S GO

P.S.

People (me) don’t forget

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