For the second year in a row, the Cleveland Cavaliers will meet the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals (series begins 3.30pm ET today, Sunday, May 13) of the NBA Playoffs.
Also for the second year, Boston, the higher seed, will once again be the one with home field advantage. Could that be enough to make a difference or will Lebron James make sure that he goes back to the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive year?
How We Got Here – Boston’s Road to the ECF
Just like in 2017, the Boston Celtics finished the 2018 regular season with a better record than the Cleveland Cavaliers. To that extent, Boston, who had a solid 27-17 record at home, at TD Garden, earned the conference’s second seed and the second easiest (at least on paper) postseason matchup. On the court however, the Milwaukee Bucks gave the Celtics all they could handle. With a combination of power, athleticism and Giannis Antekounmpo, aka the Greek Freak, Milwaukee came back from a 2-0 series deficit to take the series the distance.
At the end of the day it wasn’t enough as Boston utilized their home court advantage to storm back and record a 16-point victory at TD Garden.
This led the Celtics into the second round where they ran into the red hot buzzsaw known as the Philadelphia 76ers. Philly had been coming off a dominant 4-1 series victory over the Miami Heat and seemed the favorites, despite being a lower seed, to make it to the conference finals. Boston had other plans though and thanks to an overtime victory on the road at the Wells Fargo Center, took a dominating 3-0 lead over the Sixers to start the series. The first two games saw Boston outlast and outplay Philadelphia, shutting down Ben Simmons and exploiting his weaknesses. It will be a lot more difficult to do that against Cleveland and Lebron James but if anyone has experience with it, it’s Boston.
The Celtics didn’t end up completing the sweep as Philadelphia took the win in Game 4 before surrendering the series right there in Boston.
How We Got Here – Cleveland’s Road to the ECF
It is hard to believe that not even a month ago, there was talk of Lebron James potentially being eliminated in the first round of the postseason for the first time in his career. Now, the conversation has shifted and once again, the Cavaliers and James, are looking like they will be headed to the Finals for yet another showdown with the West’s Golden State Warriors.
For seven first round games, the Indiana Pacers gave the Cavaliers almost everything the team could handle. With a style focused on defense and perimeter-scoring, Indiana was able to do what most teams can’t when it comes to matching Cleveland position for position. Well, position for position with the exception of James. It took the King a while to get going, but once he took over the series in Game 5, it seemed all but a foregone conclusion what the end result would be.
Cleveland fought Indiana back-and-forth all the way up to the seventh and final game, which was no gimme. After losing Game 4 by a seemingly unimaginable 34 points, one of the worst losses in James’ career, the Cavaliers did just enough to win the series. Cleveland finished off Indiana and avoided the upset, doing so with a four-point Game 7 victory.
This led to a much tougher matchup and one that the Cavaliers, much like their ECF opponents, weren’t exactly favored to win. The Toronto Raptors had been the conference’s top team and not to mention, had been playing pretty solid basketball. There was even talk the Raptors had an outside shot to dethrone the Warriors. What happened instead was a reminder to never discount James.
Toronto was exposed in every facet of the game as Cleveland pulled off a surprising sweep. The wins came in dominating fashion and led to the firing of Dwayne Casey. The Raptors head coach had been named Coach of the Year a few weeks prior, due to Toronto’s regular season and historic franchise success. In the playoffs however, Casey couldn’t get the Raptors over their biggest hurdle and as a result, paid the price for it with his job.
Cavs vs Boston Celtics Series Predictions, Preview & Schedule
- Game 1: Sunday at Boston, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
- Game 2: Tuesday at Boston, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
- Game 3: May 19 at Cleveland, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
- Game 4: May 21: at Cleveland, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
- (Games 5-7 if necessary)
- Game 5: May 23 at Boston, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
- Game 6: May 25 at Cleveland, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
- Game 7: May 27 at Boston, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
It is time to bring back the “James is one of the greatest of all-time” arguments, especially after the way he has almost singlehandedly led the Cavaliers back to the ECF. The team has a great chance to head back to the promised land as well and for James, that means eight straight finals appearances. His win-loss record aside, James has proven his name belongs in the conversation.
Compared to last year, a lot has changed on both sides of the ball as the Cavaliers are not the same team that faced the Celtics this time last year. Kyrie Irving, who unfortunately has missed the playoffs with injury, was actually a big part of the reason Cleveland beat Boston last year. He won’t factor into this series nor will Isaiah Thomas, who was one of Boston’s top guys in last year’s series and who almost led Boston past one of their biggest recent rivals.
This series could come down to a few basic things. James is obviously the biggest factor on either team but not that far off is Brad Stevens, who is proving to be one of the shrewdest minds in the NBA. Stevens outcoached Brett Brown to beat the Sixers and will certainly have the coaching advantage over Tyron Lue. That doesn’t negate James however, as he has become quite the player-coach these days.
Like 30 other teams have tried, Boston won’t be able to stop James. That is almost a given fact. The key will be how they handle what the rest of the Cavalier lineup does. If Cleveland can get big scoring production from several of James’ supporting casts, history will repeat itself in this series. If they can manage to isolate James and force him to be the first, second and third option for Cleveland, Boston could finally be the ones to break Cleveland’s Eastern Conference stranglehold. Al Horford and Jayson Tatum will be key for Boston as will Kevin Love and JR Smith for the Cavs.
Boston does have home field advantage and that should help make this a bit of a series. But, at the end of the day, the East is still James’ playground and the Cavaliers are still the Kings of the East.
So now we come to this preview’s Cavs vs Boston Celtics series’ predictions and betting picks.
- Take Cleveland to get by Boston in the full seven as these two teams engage in yet another classic battle. You can bet the 4-3 series correct score @ +450 with Bovada. This can be found in the “series props” section for this clash. On the moneyline the Cavs to win the series are -270 with Bovada and -280 with 5Dimes.
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.