LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers have steamrolled the East so far in the playoffs, sweeping Indiana and then destroying Toronto LeBron, who is supposed to be slowing down at the age of 32, having been to the Finals six years in a row – a record in the modern era – has only played eight games in the last 33 days.
One of the best players in NBA history is rested and playing some of the best basketball of his career. Everyone thinks the Cavs are going to maul the Celtics. My colleague at FS1, Chris Broussard, called the Celtics the worst #1 seed of all-time. Boston was hammered by Cleveland in a statement game late in the season.
All that being said … here’s why I think the Celtics can make this a competitive series, and avoid being swept:
* I love LeBron as much as everyone else, but there will be some regression against Boston. He can’t possibly keep shooting 46 percent on 3-pointers – he only shot 36% in the regular season. Last year in the 2nd round vs Atlanta he shot 42 percent on 3-pointers; the next round against Toronto he fell to 33 percent. In 207 career playoff games, LeBron’s shooting 32 percent on 3-pointers. If he can somehow keep up the 34-9-7 he’s done through two rounds, it will confirm he is indeed a cyborg.
* The Celtics were the 2nd best team defending 3-pointers this season, and they’re 2nd best in the playoffs so far. Cleveland lit up Indiana and Toronto from deep (NBA-best 43 percent through eight games), but expect the Cavs to struggle at times in the series from downtown. The Wizards were 8th in the NBA from deep this season (37 percent), but only shot 31 percent vs Boston.
* Teams with top notch point guards have hurt the Cavs the last two postseasons. Derrick Rose’s Bulls took two games in 2015 (note: Kevin Love was injured and didn’t play), and when Kyle Lowry played well in 2016, they took two games in the series. Isaiah Thomas is having an incredible season – he was the NBA’s 3rd leading scorer and he’s averaging 25 a game in these playoffs. How Cleveland defends the Thomas/Al Horford pick and roll will determine whether or not the Celtics can avoid the sweep.
The Celtics have home court advantage and will need to win one of the first two games this week to have any shot. Their best bet might be to catch Cleveland rested but sluggish Wednesday night. And yes, I’m very aware that if Rajon Rondo doesn’t get hurt in the 1st round, Boston goes down weeks ago.
It’ll be a historic upset if the Celtics knock off LeBron’s Cavs, but I expect a competitive series for the reasons above. At the start of the postseason I had Cleveland winning 4-3; I’ll dial that back to 4-1 now.