PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics

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SEASON RECORDS

Cleveland Cavaliers: 53-29

Boston Celtics: 40-42

KEY INJURIES

Cleveland Cavaliers: Anderson Varejao is out for the season.

Boston Celtics: none

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Cleveland Cavaliers: Offense 107.7 (4th in NBA), Defense 104.1 (20th in NBA)

Boston Celtics: Offense 101.7 (20th in NBA), Defense 102.1 (14th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Will the Cavaliers remain cohesive?

Remember that time Kevin Love visited Boston last summer? You can bet people covering this series do, especially because the Celtics are still reportedly interested in Love if he opts out this summer.

Questions about Love’s fit have fallen by the wayside as the Cavaliers have surged since acquiring Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. But if the Celtics challenge Cleveland, expect the issue to reemerge – maybe even internally.

It’s not enough for the Cavaliers to beat Boston. They have to keep their good feelings going in later rounds, and given the fragility Cleveland showed earlier in the season, that might require a quick series.

If this drags out, that’s just more for the Cavaliers to ponder what’s going wrong – because for this to drag out, something must go wrong. They’re clearly the better team.

2) Which first-time playoff coach learns the nuances most quickly?

David Blatt had a storied overseas career, and Brad Stevens turned Butler into a national power.

But an NBA playoff series – with game-to-game adjustments against the same team four to seven times – is a new experience for both.

Stevens had a head start on the NBA game, coaching the Celtics to the lottery last year. He says he’s watched plenty of playoff basketball and has a sense how to handle it.

Blatt, an NBA rookie, has improved throughout the season – just as you’d expect a rookie to do. Stevens went through it last year, though Blatt’s learning period has been higher-profile (and probably more poorly handled).

My money is on Stevens holding the edge, but…

3) LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love

This isn’t even a question. The Cavaliers have the three best players in this series.

Heck, Tristan Thompson posted more win shares than any Celtic this season.

The talent gap here is wide, and Boston isn’t deep enough to erase the gap. Stars matter.

PREDICTION

The Celtics play hard and are well-coached, and it’s a fantastic accomplishment they made the playoffs.

But they just don’t have the talent to win four games unless Cleveland completely collapses. The way the Cavaliers have played lately, I don’t see that happening, and the only real debate was whether Boston would steal a game or not.

Cavaliers in 5