For the second year in a row the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers will face off in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
The Cavaliers were the second seed in the Eastern Conference last season and were forced to play on the road in the opening two matches of the series.
However, they eased past Brad Stevens’ men as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving guided the team to a 4-1 victory, including three wins at the TD Garden.
Boston once again have home-court advantage in the opening two matches, and although Irving is now a Celtic, he won’t be in action having suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The Celtics have performed well in the post-season thus far, even with their plethora of injuries. Stevens’ defeated the Milwaukee Bucks by a 4-3 scoreline in the first round before hammering the Philadelphia 76ers in the Conference Semi-Finals.
Cleveland were taken all the way by the Indiana Pacers in the first round, they emerged victorious in the final contest of the series. Their clash against the top seed Toronto Raptors was a daunting prospect. However, LeBron James guided his side to a whitewash triumph to advance with ease.
We’ll now break down both sides ahead of game one of the series at the TD Garden.
Stevens deserves a huge amount of credit for taking the Celtics back to the Eastern Conference Finals. The team were handed a devastating blow in the opening game of the season when Gordon Hayward suffered a broken ankle, ruling him out for the campaign. Boston responded by winning 16 matches on the bounce to take command of the Conference.
They were consistent over the course of the season, although injuries and consistency issues with their younger players kept them from securing the top seed. A hammer blow emerged towards the end of the term when Irving, who was everything Boston had hoped for when they acquired him from the Cavs, was ruled out of the playoffs with a knee injury.
However, Stevens and his side have risen to the occasion in the post-season. The Celtics are not blessed with a great number of veterans in their side, but their key man has been Al Horford. He has been a defensive rock for the team, providing vital leadership to the players around him. His experience will be crucial against a savvy Cavs outfit.
The presence of Horford has allowed Boston’s promising youth to flourish around him. Eyebrows were raised when general manager Danny Ainge traded the first-overall pick to the 76ers, which Philadelphia used to acquire Markelle Fultz. The club dropped down to number three and selected Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old has been simply a revelation and was the difference between the two teams in the Conference Semi-Finals.
He has averaged 18.8 points per game in the post-season – a remarkable record. Tatum along with Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown need to be at their absolute peak to compete with LeBron and company in the series. Even that type effort may not be enough, although they could lay down a marker in game one.
LeBron has been simply sensational in the post-season and has carried the Cavs almost single-handedly into the Eastern Conference Finals. It didn’t appear that Cleveland would be on the path for a deep surge in the post-season in February when they traded away a large portion of their roster.
Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade and Iman Shumpert were all sent on their way, eradicating the moves off the past off-season. LeBron was left with a solid starting line-up, although the depth beyond Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson and JR Smith did not inspire confidence.
However, Cleveland found their form and were able to secure the fourth seed, handing them a tricky tie against the Pacers in the first round. The contest went back and forth, with LeBron putting forward three 40-point performances to secure the series. He notched 45 points in the decider, highlighting his value to the Cavs.
The 32-year-old began the contest against the Raptors with the 21st triple-double of his career as Cleveland managed to snatch the opener in overtime on the road. LeBron notched another 40-pointer to secure a comfortable victory in game two, sending the Cavs back home with a 2-0 lead. He was at his most clutch in the dying stages of the contest, netting a fade away on the buzzer deliver a 105-103 triumph. The final game of the series was a stroll for Cleveland, easing their way back into the Finals.
LeBron has averaged 34.3 points per game almost 20 points more than his nearest team-mate. Love, Smith and Korver have been solid contributors in the playoffs, easing the pressure on the 32-year-old at crucial times. However, the Cavs’ hopes hinge on the form of LeBron and whether he can sustained his scoring brilliance.
LeBron is playing at an incredible level at the moment. There have been few players in NBA history that have operated at this standard in the post-season other than Michael Jordan at the peak of his powers. Cleveland edged the head-to-head against the Celtics, winning 2-1, although one of those victories came after Hayward suffered his devastating injury in the opening match of the term. However, the Cavs dominated their last outing at the TD Garden, triumphing by 22 points.
Cleveland have locked in since arriving in the post-season with their experience playing a vital part in their success. The Celtics have a lot of young players in key positions and the occasion may be an issue in the clutch moments. Tatum, Brown and Rozier are fine players, but will need to take their games to next level to compete.
LeBron is the crucial factor, Stevens will know that he cannot limit the 32-yearold. However, should the Celtics limit him to 30 points or under then they have an excellent chance of pulling off the victory in game one. LeBron is playing too well at the moment therefore back the Cavs to edge it at -125 with TopBet, also take them at -2.5 on the points spread at +100 with 888Sport.
Cleveland Cavaliers To Beat Boston Celtics Game One
Sunday 13th May 2018 15:30 ET (20:30 BST)
Cleveland Cavaliers -2.5 Points Spread Game One
Sunday 13th May 2018 15:30 ET (20:30 BST)