Here are the things the Boston Celtics must accomplish in order to survive the Cleveland Cavaliers
DOWN. The Boston Celtics have several things to improve on to clinch a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images North America/AFP
And we thought the Warriors-Spurs series was one-sided.
The Cleveland Cavaliers continue their sweeping ways as they whup the Boston Celtics in Boston, 117-104, on Thursday Manila time. They are now 9-0 in the playoffs, chasing the Golden State Warriors at 10-0. They led by as many as 28 behind LeBron James’ 38 points and Kevin Love’s 32 points and 12 rebounds as the home team Celtics never led once.
In what was expected to be a competitive game between the East’s first and second seeds, the Cavaliers just upheld their playoff status quo: to dominate and flat-out embarrass the opposing team. The East’s top seed already lost their home court advantage.
It’s not that the Celtics were bad. It’s just that the Cavaliers (or just LeBron) were just too good.
With their backs against the wall, the Celtics now have to take these steps to even survive. Anything less and they’re going fishing for sure.
1. Contain LeBron
At this point, doing this is like trying to walk on water. At age 32, James is coasting through the playoffs with inhuman averages of 34.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.3 blocks on 56% shooting and 43% from downtown. Aside from outright injuring the man a la Zaza Pachulia, there really is no one way to lock him down.
However, driving to the basket is still, and always has been, his bread-and-butter. The Celtics made it easier for him as he scored first 20 points in the paint. Left side, right side, down the middle, left had, right hand… you name it, the Celtics let him do it.
Next game, if Jae Crowder still can’t man him up, the Celtics’ bigs should be on their toes every single time to provide weak side defense in the paint. It’ll open up James’ passing options, but hey, if you’re trying to slay a giant, at least do the most effective thing and hope for the best, right?
2. Improve on offense
If they can’t play chess, play checkers.
The Celtics are great all-around, but if their fifth-best defense can’t negate the Cavs’ #1 rated offense, then they might as well improve on their offense. Fight fire with fire. The Houston Rockets tried it and worked to some extent (before James Harden sold out on Game 6). They gave double priority to offense and slacked on defense – a strategy good enough for a Western Semifinals appearance.
For the playoffs, the Celtics hold a wide margin at first place with 71.2% of their points off assists and second in averaged assists at 27.7 per game. They have arguably one of the most proficient passing big men in Al Horford to help out Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas on playmaking duties. In the playoffs, he is averaging 5.8 assists, more than double Avery Bradley’s 2.4. As a side note, Bradley should really pass the rock more. 2.4 assists per game is too low for a starting guard.
Although the Cavaliers have amped up their defense to fifth best, they were still 21st out of 30 in the regular season. They clearly still have holes to plug, and the Celtics can possibly expose that through fundamental ball movement. If they can’t beat LeBron one-on-one, they might as well beat his team together. Again, they need to take what they can get.
3. Steal a game on the road
This is perhaps the hardest of all tasks for Boston but also the most important.
Not only has Cleveland stolen a home game, but they have stolen home-court advantage with 3 home games still stashed in their arsenal – just enough to close out the Men in Green.
The chances to defeat the champs are few and far in between, but the Celtics absolutely have to be at 110% effort to steal back at least one game inside the Quicken Loans Arena.
If they do anything less than these things, the playoff mode Cavaliers would cruise back to the NBA Finals. A no. 1 overall pick (congratulations, by the way) is not enough to console fans once that happens.