Nine days of rest turned out to be just the formula the Cleveland Cavaliers needed as they easily won their Eastern Conference Finals opener against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. The teams meet for Game 2 today (8.30pm ET Friday on TNT).
Cleveland looked as good as they have all postseason which is really saying something for a team that is now 9-0 in the playoffs this year. Following back-to-back sweeps, some thought that the Cavaliers would be sluggish out of the gate but it was quite the opposite. Cleveland played crisp and clean, scoring 61 points in the half compared to just 39 for the Celtics. Led by Kevin Love’s 12 rebounds and 32 points and LeBron James’ game high 38 points, as well as nine rebounds and seven assists, both offensively and defensively, the Cavs were clicking on all cylinders.
The Celtics on the other hand struggled, likely still recovering from their Game 7 victory over the Washington Wizards in the previous series. Boston was unable to get Isaiah Thomas or Al Horford going all game as the duo that had been money for the team over the first two series, combined for just 28 points. Boston did mount a comeback, outscoring the Cavaliers by five in the third quarter and nine total in the second half, but down 22 points entering the third, this wasn’t enough. The final score was 117-104 in favor of the road team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Ain’t No Stopping LeBron
LeBron James is a known quantity: the sky is blue and James is going to get his 25+ points per game. That’s not even worth debate nor is it worth an opposing team trying to stop him. Unfortunately for the Celtics though, not only is James perhaps playing the best postseason of his illustrious career, but he’s not the only one.
James is second in the postseason as far as points per game with an average of 34.8 (just below Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, who finished with a 37.4 average over just five games played). Interestingly enough, you have to go all the way down the list to No. 21 to find the next Cavalier scorer, Kyrie Irving, who is averaging 22.3 points. Even further down at No. 29 is Love, who is averaging just 15.8 points per game.
Those stats don’t tell the whole story however. The Cavaliers have been the best three point shooting team this postseason, averaging a percentage of just under 43. This is largely because nine Cavalier scorers are shooting at or above 40 percent, which is incredible. Like James, successful three point shooting is a known quantity for Cleveland, which makes Wednesday night’s result that much more threatening to Boston’s chances of winning this series.
The Celtics actually made one more three pointer than the Cavaliers, despite shooting a few ticks less percentage wise. Boston had 12 to Cleveland’s 11 and yet, the Celtics still lost by 13 points. The first half numbers were even worse for the Cavaliers as they began the game 0-for-5 from beyond the arc and still entered the first half with a 22 point lead.
It’s a big red flag for the Celtics if they can’t win even on a night where Cleveland shot well behind its average from the perimeter. This should have been Boston’s best chance to pick up the victory because given how well the Cavaliers have been shooting from three point range this postseason, Wednesday was more of an anomaly than any sort of normal, expected occurrence.
Getting Thomas Going
If the Celtics have any hope of getting back in this one before it heads to Cleveland, they will need their star from the first two playoff series to really step up and lead. As mentioned earlier in this preview, Thomas had just the 17 points as he could not buy a shot in Game 1. For Boston, that’s not enough to compete against the loaded Cavs.
Led by one of the NBA’s youngest head coaches in former Butler coach, Brad Stevens, the Celtics are the youngest team to receive the top seed in quite a long time. The team’s average age is 26 years and for the most part lacks real playoff experience compared to their opponents. In Game 1 a lot rode on Thomas’ shoulders and perhaps he felt that pressure as shot after shot rimmed out or missed the mark. As a younger player, Thomas may have felt the need to press and with his team down, force shots in an attempt to lessen the deficit. Among both teams, Thomas’ 19 field goal attempts were second most to James’ 24.
Speaking of abnormalities, Thomas scoring just the 17 points and shooting just under 37 percent from the floor definitely fits in that category. This postseason he has averaged 24.8 points and has come up huge when Boston needed to call on him. Wednesday night however, he looked lost. Boston can’t afford for him to look lost in Game 2 today.
Our Preview’s Cavs @ Boston Celtics Game 2 Picks & Betting Predictions
It is weird to see an Eastern Conference Finals without the Cavaliers being top seed but that’s exactly what we will witness throughout the rest of this series. In a way, it seems to have benefited Cleveland as they sacrificed home field advantage for late season rest and it’s really paying off. Not only have the Cavaliers played less games than the Celtics this postseason due to their consecutive sweeps, but they also regained that home field advantage thanks to their Game 1 victory in Boston.
This series is really Cleveland’s to win and short of some sort of miracle or injury to James, there is no reason to believe they won’t. Boston should manage to win a game at home but even then, given how Cleveland won on Wednesday in spite of poor three point shooting, another sweep isn’t at all out of the realm of possibility.
- The sportsbooks’ spread for Game 2 is set between 5.5pts and 6.5pts in favor of the road team and it is a safe bet that Cleveland covers on their way to another victory. This preview’s betting prediction is to take the Cavs -5.5pts @ -110 with 5Dimes, which is the best odds and spread for this pick.
- As for the total of 220 (219.5 with 5Dimes), the Cavaliers aren’t known for their defense and limiting Boston in the first half of Game 1 is unlikely to happen again. Take the over 219.5pts @ -110 best odds with 5Dimes, MyBookie or BetOnline.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.