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The Boston Celtics secured their first Eastern Conference Final berth since 2012 by defeating the Washington Wizards.
Brad Stevens’ men were consistent throughout the campaign and due to the failure of the Cleveland Cavaliers towards the end of the term – the Celtics were able to close out the first seed with 53 wins.
As a result of earning the top seed in the Conference, Boston were handed a favourable draw in the first round of the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls.
However, the Celtics were rocked in the opening two matches of the series at the TD Garden, with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade guiding Fred Hoiberg’s men to victory.
Boston needed a response on the road and Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas answered the call to level the series with back-to-back victories at the United Center.
Avery Bradley took centre stage to guide the Celtics into the lead for the first time in the series before putting in a dominant performance in game six to advance.
The Wizards would prove to be a tougher opponent with Bradley Beal and John Wall leading the line. Despite trailing in both opening matches at the TD Garden, Thomas put on two clinics to put the Celtics in command of the series, including a 53-pointer in game two.
Wall and Beal rallied their team back into the series with two wins on the bounce at the Verizon Center, but Bradley put the Celtics within striking distance in game five.
Stevens’ men had the chance to close out the series and advance in Washington, but another strong outing from Wall send the contest into a decider at the TD Garden.
In game seven, Boston were forced to rally, but with impacts of the bench and a 29-point outing from Thomas they booked their place in the Conference Finals.
Boston have displayed character in their playoff wins over the Bulls and the Wizards to earn their Conference Finals berth, and will need that in abundance to knock off the defending champions.
However, they have a superstar capable of driving them to victory in the form of Thomas. The point guard has been one of the most underrated players in the NBA over the past two season, but his performances have been invaluable to Stevens’ men to drive them back to their former greatness.
Boston gave up a late first-round pick to acquire the 28-year-old from the Phoenix Suns in 2014, and it has proven to have been great business by general manager Danny Ainge. Thomas has taken his game to the next level and has put forward statistics to match the best in the league at his position – with perhaps only Russell Westbrook enjoying a stronger year at point guard.
He put the Celtics on his back in the opening two matches of the series against the Wizards to lead the comeback after they fallen into a hole in the early stages. His 53-point performance in game two highlighted his class and how much Stevens and his side have come to rely on his greatness. Should he go off against the Cavaliers then the Celtics will be able to match their opponents scoring power.
Horford has been a defensive stud for the Celtics in the playoffs thus far. He has provided the veteran leadership needed to aid a young team, with a strong presence across the court. The 30-year-old will need to maintain the high level of his displays to thwart LeBron James and company, but is more than capable of limiting the potent Cavs’ offense.
Slow starts plagued Boston at the start of both their series with the Bulls and the Wizards. Chicago were able to capitalise and turn those into victories at the TD Garden, while Stevens’ men were forced to play excellent basketball to overhaul their deficit against Washington to win the opening two matches of the Conference Semi-Finals.
The Celtics played the Cavaliers in the playoffs two seasons ago and were swept. The club are a lot stronger now, but will have to start strongly to put LeBron and company under pressure heading into the contests on the road. Similar opening performances against the Cavaliers to the ones from the series against the Bulls and the Wizards will leave Boston with an uphill challenge.
When Thomas struggled during the matches against the Bulls and the Wizards – the Celtics tended to struggle. In game seven of the clash against Washington – the 28-year-old got off to a rough start, but upped the ante in the second half to drive his side over the line. Kelly Olynyk picked up the strain from the bench with a 26-point performance to ease the pressure on the point guard, but his form has not been consistent in his career.
The same could be said for the rest of the Celtics’ line-up, with Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson along with youngsters Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. They cannot afford to leave Thomas fighting the battle for points alone. The times when they have failed to rise to the occasion – it has been no surprise to see the Celtics fail to secure the win.
Cleveland’s defense is not formidable, meaning there will be opportunities. However, those support players must be able to take their chances otherwise it will be game over for Stevens’ men.
The Cavaliers edged the four matches the clubs played in over the course of the regular season, winning three of the contests. As a result, the Celtics will have to up their quality to overcome Tyronn Lue’s side, who have also had the advantage of multiple days of rest ahead of the series.
Boston will need to be flawless in their approach against the defending champions, but will have the advantage of home field early on due to their higher seeding that could swing momentum in their favour.
The key for Stevens’ men is the form of Thomas and Horford along with the support of Bradley, Crowder and company. Should their two star man be allowed to dictate the tempo of the game at both ends of the court – the Celtics could be able to advance to their first NBA Finals since 2010.
As a result, backing Boston to win the series at 8/5 2.60 +160 1.60 1.60 -0.63 presents good value for money with Bovada sportsbook, with Stevens’ men capable of springing a surprise on the Cavaliers.
Boston Celtics To Win Eastern Conference
May 17th – May 29th 2017
Odds: 8/5 2.60 +160 1.60 1.60 -0.63
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