May. 17, 2017
NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference Finals Preview
So how long has LeBron been in control of the East? The last time the Celtics were in the conference finals, LeBron hadn’t won a championship and was wearing a Miami Heat uniform. The Celtics still had their Big 3 in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. In fact, Avery Bradley is the only remaining player from the 2012 Celtics team. So let’s start by giving the Celtics a round of applause. They rebuilt without tanking and wasting their fans time. Unfortunately, they’re in a matchup they cannot win.
It’s been a turbulent ride to the conference finals for Boston. Falling behind 0-2 to the Chicago Bulls, Isiah Thomas’ off the court tragedy and a seven game series victory over the Washington Wizards. One thing that has been impressive is how the Celtics seem to produce an unsung hero in key moments. One game it’s Bradley stepping up with a career night. In Game 7 against the Wizards, it was Kelly Olynyk who emerged as the hero. Danny Ainge has built a good team and has a great coach pushing all of the right buttons. Unfortunately they’re one player short and will probably fill that hole in the offseason; which is exactly where LeBron James will be sending them.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have had an easy Sunday cruise to this point. No team has come close. They were either incompetent in key moments (Pacers) or star struck into submission (Raptors). LeBron James has been producing at an all-time rate and everyone else has been doing their job. At this point, only the Warriors have the firepower to keep up with the Cleveland offense and the only teams that can compete with them are in the West. So let’s quickly go through the keys in this series for both teams.
Keys For Boston
From Isiah Thomas to Jonas Jerebko, everyone needs to play their best series and make some sort of impact. They need to outwork the Cavs and win EVERY 50/50 ball and capitalize on every mistake.
-Be Close Going Into the Fourth
Isiah Thomas’ unofficial nickname is the ‘King of the Fourth’. But none of that matters is the Celtics are down 20 or 30 points going into the fourth quarter. So the Celtics need to do what they can to give Thomas a chance to take over in the fourth.
-Utilize Home-court Advantage
It’s very easy to forget that the Celtics have home-court advantage with all eyes being on the Cavs. Brad Stevens should go dig up every ‘protect this house’ speech he can find and get his team to apply the two previous keys. If they put everything together, they may avoid being swept at the very least.
Keys For Cleveland
-Pull a Steph on IT
Lets open our history books to last year’s NBA Finals. In order to exploit Steph Curry’s lack of defense and make him work on both sides of the ball, the Cavaliers utilized the pick and roll to force Curry to switch onto Kyrie Irving or LeBron James. Furthermore, they pressed him everywhere he went on the court on the offensive side. The same strategy should be applied to IT. A simple case of cut off the head and the body will follow.
-Kyrie Must Be the Second Best Player on the Court
Almost by default, Kyrie Irving has been the second best player on the court every time the Cavs have stepped on the court during the playoffs. This time around he’ll actually have some competition for his spot. During the regular season, IT averaged 29 points and six assist against a Cavs team that had no answer for him. Now Kyrie probably won’t be the primary defender to go up against IT, but he still needs to outproduce him to cancel out his contribution.
The Cavs have to make sure LeBron doesn’t decide to go back to his home planet. Also, they should double his security to make sure some crazy Celtic fan doesn’t attempt to mimic the plot of Celtics Pride and kidnap him. And finally, they have to make sure the Monstars don’t show up to steal his talent.
Assuming Olynyk doesn’t apply his patented standing armbar on LeBron, the Cavs will sweep the Celtics rather easily. But don’t worry Celtic fans, your team gets the Brooklyn Nets draft pick and you have enough assets to bring in the final piece to your championship puzzle.