Three Things to Watch Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics

5 Comments

Typically when the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in a conference meet in said conference’s finals, we are pumped because it means a close, hard-fought series with the Finals on the line. Not this time. Boston may be the No. 1 seed, but from oddsmakers in Vegas through talk show hosts anywhere outside New England, most people give the Celtics about as much chance as Marie-Antoinette vs. the guillotine. Here are the three things to watch, and it paints a roadmap for Boston if they are to have a chance this series.

1. How do the Celtics slow LeBron James? LeBron has been the playoffs MVP so far, the best player on any team, and he has lifted the Cavaliers up with him. Through eight games (sweeps in the first two rounds), LeBron is averaging 34.4 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. Those aren’t volume numbers, he’s been incredibly efficient shooting 57 overall from the field and 46.8 percent from three. He has been a force of nature running the pick-and-roll, neither the Pacers nor Raptors had any answer for dealing with him in that two-man game. If you don’t think he can do that to the Celtics, remember he averaged more than 29 points a game in the four meetings in the regular season and had a triple-double (28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) in the one game Boston won.

The Celtics have needed LeBron to be this good because Kyrie Irving has yet to get on track this postseason. It just hasn’t mattered. Yet.

Brad Stevens will scheme, and expect a lot of Jae Crowder to start on LeBron, with Marcus Smart likely getting a chance. If he gets desperate, maybe Stevens tries the athletic Gerald Green. The problem is Cleveland will decide who they want to guard LeBron and have that man’s mark come out and set the pick for LeBron. Think back to the Finals last year: Cleveland wanted Stephen Curry on LeBron, so Curry’s man always set the pick, no matter who it was, to force the switch. If the Cavaliers want to target Isaiah Thomas or anyone else, they will just force a two-man game and try to get the switch.

Boston provides a counter problem on the other end — Isaiah Thomas tore up the Cavaliers this season averaging 29.5 points per game in reg season against them. How Cleveland chooses to defend him and how many bodies they throw at him and dare others to beat them (Washington’s plan in the last round) remains to be seen. What we do know is Cleveland is back to playing good defense, and they are much better at it than the Wizards.

2. Which teams defends the three-point line better? Through the playoffs, the Boston Celtics have taken 456 total threes — 42.1 percent of their shot attempts come from three (only Houston had a higher percentage). Cleveland is right on their heels — 40.8 percent of their shot attempts have come from three. The Cavs have shot 43.4 percent from beyond the arc, the Celtics 37.3 percent.

The three is key to both team’s attacks. Whichever team can do a better job chasing their opponent off the arc, and contesting the shots they do take from deep, will have a huge advantage.

Boston’s opponents have shot just 31 percent from three through two rounds, although to be fair they played the shooting-challenged Bulls in the first round so it skews the numbers. It’s also going to be a different thing to do it against a Cavaliers team that has Channing Frye, who is shooting 55 percent from three in the playoffs, Kyle Korver (48 percent), LeBron (47 percent) and J.R. Smith (44 percent). What’s more, the Cavaliers have targeted the corner three heavily in the postseason and as a team are shooting 54 percent from there. LeBron has 16 assists to corner threes through eight games.

3. Boston has to be strong on the glass to have any chance in this series. Rebounding has been the Achilles heel of the Celtics all season long, and that has continued through the playoffs — they have won the rebounding battle once in 13 postseason games. The Celtics have grabbed 45.7 percent of total available rebounds these playoffs, the lowest percentage of any team in the postseason.

Now the Celtics go up against a team that starts Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson — the Cavaliers are beasts on the glass.

It may slow their transition game some, but the Celtics must gang rebound and make it a priority. Thompson, in particular, is active on the offensive glass and will be a real problem for Boston, who wants to play small but if they do too much Thompson could challenge Moses Malone’s record of 27 offensive rebounds in a series (1983 NBA Finals vs. the Lakers).  It may be heresy to quote Pat Riley to Boston, but his mantra “rebounds=rings” applies to them.

Prediction: Cavaliers in Five. I know that saying it ends in five means Cleveland wins twice in Boston, but honestly, I think four games is more likely than six. I’ll give Boston one of the first two. But the fact is that while Boston is a good team they have flaws that the Cavaliers will exploit and, to be honest, Cleveland is just the better team.

The good news for the Celtics is they have the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. GM Danny Ainge has to watch this series and ask himself, “Are we one player away if I trade this pick for an established star? Or are we better off drafting a potential star and trying to peak three years from now when LeBron is fading?”

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

Getty Images
5 Comments

During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

1 Comment

Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

2 Comments

Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

AP Photo/Nick Wass
Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.