Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals have been total snooze fests. The Cleveland Cavaliers jumped out to second-half leads of 28 and 50 points, respectively, on their way to dominating victories on the road against the Boston Celtics.
Is a third blowout in the cards as the series shifts to Cleveland? Game 3 today will definitely be a test of Boston’s mental fortitude (8:30pm ET Sunday on TNT).
The Celtics will be without All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas with a torn hip for the rest of the postseason, the team announced on Saturday. This is a major blow to Boston’s already-slim chances at winning the series.
This preview will now discuss a few key questions for tonight’s Game 3 and then give our betting predictions and picks for the spread and total score in a bid to get the better of the United States bookies you can trust.
Can Al Horford Step Up As an Offensive Focal Point?
Thomas’ absence means the Cavaliers can stop their aggressive trapping game plan on his pick-and-rolls. Cleveland will likely shift its attention to limiting the impact of Al Horford, who played extremely well in the first two rounds.
Horford will probably be the end-of-clock offensive option for Boston, which means he’ll have to submit a huge game as a post scorer and passer, as well as a pick-and-pop option. He does all those things well, but it will be different for him without Thomas not there to take the brunt of the defensive attention.
Horford will need to put up something along the lines of 25 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for the Celtics to stay competitive in Game 3.
Can the Cavaliers Continue to Keep All of Big Three Engaged?
Part of the reason Game 2 was such a great performance for Cleveland was that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were all significantly involved in the offense. All three had at least 21 points and two assists and shot at least 50 percent from the field.
Finding a good balance has been an issue throughout the Big Three era for the Cavs. Usually, it’s Love who gets phased out of the attack, but Irving has also struggled occasionally because James takes the brunt of the ball-handling duties. Cleveland put the ball in all three guys’ hands on Friday in spots where they like it.
When Love is involved both as a post-up and spot-up option and Irving is aggressive in attacking mismatches off the dribble and drilling open threes, the Cavs are lethal. Defending James is hard enough, but it’s downright impossible to stop three offensive stars playing at the same time.
Cleveland must continue to keep all three guys significantly involved in the offense, and the Celtics must play more spirited defense to stop the Cavs from getting easy shots.
Will the Celtics Play With Any Sense of Pride?
Boston played with anything but “Celtic Pride” in Game 2. The players looked like they didn’t want to be there, as they rotated lazily on defense, made some ghastly turnovers and couldn’t focus enough to cash in on their wide-open jumpers.
As the series shifts to Cleveland, the Celtics have a choice to make. Do they lay down and concede victory to the more talented team, knowing that somehow winning a game only delays the inevitable?
Boston lost all three games against the Wizards in its last round, putting up absolutely pathetic showings in two of them and that was actually a tightly-contested series.
The Celtics’ recent road performances (and the lack of Thomas) suggests a poor performance in Game 3. But simply playing hard can go a long way, if the road team chooses to do so.
Our Preview’s Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Game 3 Betting Picks & Predictions
This is one of the most lopsided games of the postseason, on paper at least. The Celtics are without their best offensive player against a team that just slaughtered them twice in Boston, and now the series shifts to Cleveland.
LeBron James is playing at too consistently high a level right now for him to suddenly lay an egg, and that’s what would need to happen for the Celtics to miraculously pull out a victory. Boston should put up more of a fight than in Game 2, but it won’t make that much of a difference.
- The spread is a massive 16 or 16.5 points in favor of the Cavaliers. This may seem excessive, but all Cleveland has to do is win by 17 points at home with the best player in the world and two other guys who are arguably better than any healthy Celtics player. My pick is to bet on the Cavs -16pt @ -110 with 5Dimes or MyBookie.
- The majority of the sportsbooks have a moderately high betting line of 214 or 215 total points to be scored in the game. I recommend taking the under, because the Celtics just lost their best offensive player and worst defensive player in Isaiah Thomas. Cleveland won’t have such an obvious liability to target in Game 3 and Boston will be able to ramp up its defensive pressure without its 5’9” point guard. Go under 215pts @ -105 with Bovada Sportsbook.