The Cleveland Cavaliers’ path to defend their NBA Championship must go through the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Cavaliers’ poor end to the regular season cost them the number one seed and now must travel to the TD Garden for the opening two matches of the Conference Finals.
Tyronn Lue’s men have been outstanding in the playoffs thus far, brushing aside the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors with ease.
As a result of the comfortable nature of their victories, they have been able to rest up, while the Celtics have been battling their way into the last two.
The Celtics snatched the one seed away from Cleveland and were meant to have the easier path to the Conference Finals, but it has been far from plain sailing for Brad Stevens’ men.
Boston were 2-0 down to the eighth seed Chicago Bulls before Isaiah Thomas inspired a comeback, allowing them to secure a 4-2 series win.
Their clash with the Washington Wizards went down to game seven, with nothing to separate the two sides. However, the Celtics just had enough to dispatch Scott Brooks’ side, with Thomas putting in a 29-point display at the TD Garden.
Cleveland will be aiming to reach the NBA Finals for the third year on the bounce, while Boston are looking for their first appearance since 2010 when they were beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers.
We’ll now break down the match-up between the two sides and look at the betting odds for the series.
The defending champions have been imperious in their opening two playoff series. Lue’s men have not dropped a game in the post-season, defeating the Pacers and the Raptors without breaking much of a sweat due to a number of outstanding performances.
LeBron James has been operating at the peak of his powers as he searches for his fourth championship; and for the second time in his career back-to-back titles. The 32-year-old was part of the Miami Heat outfit that defeated the Celtics in their last appearance in the Conference Finals in 2012 – which was the last outings for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the famous green shirt.
The forward has been just as instrumental in the Cavs’ run this season, losing not an ounce of his ability. He dominated the Raptors, scoring over 30 points in all four matches, while he was equally impressive against the Pacers. At his best no team in the NBA can stop him as the Golden State Warriors found to their cost in the Finals last term.
Should LeBron be allowed to control the match as he did in the opening two rounds of the post-season – Cleveland can book their tickets for the Finals once again.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are also on song and were in full flow to support their captain against the Raptors and the Pacers. However, Stevens is a solid coach and will gameplan to limit James – therefore it’s vital for the Cavs that they continue to contribute in the final third of the court, alleviating the pressure on LeBron.
Defending has been issue since the turn of the year, and could allow the Celtics to threaten with Thomas and Bradley if they are lapse in their concentration, especially on fast-breaks.
The Celtics earned a crucial advantage over the Cavaliers by snatching the one seed away from them, with the potential of playing a decider at the TD Garden rather than on the road.
It proved to be crucial in their series win over the Wizards, with Steven’s men defeating their rivals in game seven, using home field to great advantage to seal their place in the Conference Finals for the first time in five years.
Thomas was the driving force behind firing them into the latter stages of the post-season, with fine performances against the Bulls – aided by Avery Bradley and Al Horford during their 4-2 win.
The 28-year-old took his game to the next level against the Wizards, with a 53-point display in game two – almost breaking the club’s playoff points’ record. He was not at his best towards the end of the series, with support needed from his team-mates- which was not forthcoming until game seven.
However, Thomas gave his side a spark with back-to-back three pointers before Kelly Olynyk led the charge down the stretch to guide his side over the line. The Celtics have been over reliant on Thomas on offense and Horford on defense this term – especially in the playoffs.
Horford has been outstanding for the club and has provided a strong influence across the court on the younger players in the Celtics’ outfit. Olynyk’s performance was welcome against the Wizards as Crowder, Bradley and Amir Johnson all had poor displays.
To keep pace with the Cavaliers’ offense those players need to step up and support the leaders in their team. Horford and Thomas will be able to hold their own against the defending champions, but the depth in quality possessed by Cleveland will require high-calibre performances from across the Celtics line-up.
The Cavaliers swept aside the Raptors and the Pacers in their previous two matches and will be well rested for the clash against the Celtics.
Cleveland beat Boston in a sweep in their last playoff series two years ago, and although the two sides are very different now – Lue’s men could still hold a psychological edge.
They edged out the Celtics in their four meetings this season, winning three of the contests, while their one defeat was a close loss at the TD Garden.
Lue’s side hammered Boston in their last clash on the road in April, which could be a foreshadowing for the upcoming series, especially since the Stevens’ men will have been worn down by their exploits against the Bulls and Wizards – playing five more matches than their rivals.
The Cavaliers have depth of quality on their side, with the best player in the game in the form of James operating at the peak of his powers.
Irving and Love have been outstanding thus far and will provide too much offense for the Celtics to compete this year, although their roster is set up to be a constant headache for Cleveland for the seasons to come in the Eastern Conference.
As a result, backing the Cavaliers at -550 with William Hill to win the Eastern Conference is the bet to take. However, the scoreline could be intriguing with the Celtics boasting the talent to make a competitive series – unlike the Pacers and the Raptors.
For Cleveland to win by a 4-2 scoreline would be a wise punt at +225 with SkyBet, while taking the series to be decided in six games at +187 with Sportsbet sportsbook would also be prudent – just in case Boston produce the reverse result.
Cleveland Cavaliers To Win Eastern Conference
May 17th – May 29th 2017
Cleveland Cavaliers To Win Eastern Conference By 4-2 Scoreline
May 17th – May 29th 2017
Series To Be Decided In Six Games
May 17th – May 29th 2017
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