NBA Playoff Pick: Cavaliers vs Celtics Game 2 Odds and Prediction
The Boston Celtics had narrative street on their side heading into game one of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, but ultimately the #1 seed in the conference couldn’t cash in. Isaiah Thomas struggled badly against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who got a vintage performance from the ever studly LeBron James and strong efforts all around in an easy win.
The start of the Eastern Conference Finals began just like we probably should have expected it to; with the Cavs doing as they pleased offensively and their defense making things harder than it ought to be for the Celtics on their home floor.
This is exactly what we feared, folks. LeBron James and co. were not rusty, but instead well rested, as they enforced their will from the very beginning. Cleveland hit 35% of their three’s, got to the free throw line nearly double the amount of times Boston got there, and had just 8 turnovers compared to Boston’s 14.
To put it simply, Cleveland was ready and looked like a team that was on a mission, rather than one worried it might shrink on the road against a team that is finally ready to give them a fight. This looked like any other game and like the start of any other series, with the inevitable ending likely being the Cavs storming off as winners.
Of course, that was just the first game. Boston tried an odd switch defense that worked horribly, Isaiah Thomas missed 12 of 19 shot attempts and the bench that provided sparks through Boston’s first two playoff series wasn’t as reliable in the start of their biggest series yet.
We actually backed the Celtics going into game one, as there was plenty of evidence to at least rally behind them at home in such a huge game. Instead, the Celtics were not ready for the challenge and instead of making the Cavs work for it, they didn’t put up much of a fight at all.
So, with Boston’s back already against the wall as we head into game two at TD Garden on Friday night, can we hope for a different outcome, or expect more of the same? Let’s take a deeper look at what game two can provide as we come away with a prediction:
Everything the Cavs set out to do in game one, they accomplished. They played solid defense in a hostile environment (held Celtics to 31% from long range) and they attacked the rim relentlessly. Cleveland’s style gave way to a lot of easy buckets near the rim, which is what propels them to play their best ball.
This was a natural strategy, seeing as Boston’s defensive strength rests with quality ISO defenders on the perimeter. However, with no shot-blocking presence (Al Horford was atrocious defensively), the Celtics would often collapse, either allowing LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to get easy buckets (17 two-pointers combined), get to the free throw line or kick the ball out for an open look.
The latter is what ultimately burned the Celtics the most, as their defense on the outside understandably sagged and allowed the Cavs to connect on 11 three’s. Kevin Love stepped up for a playoff career high 32 points thanks to six of those deep balls, while he also predictably dominated the glass (12 rebounds) against a team that lacks any reliable size or rebounding down low.
I’m not sure what we can expect to suddenly change here, as the Celtics truly are who they’ve shown themselves to be. Isaiah Thomas can score the ball and might have one or two games good enough to keep this series interesting, but even when that happens he is going to need one or two other players to step up and score at a high level and this defense is going to need to find a way to get crucial stops.
The path to that isn’t evident, as Al Horford hasn’t exhibited an ability to help defensively and Cleveland ironically has the defensive tools to give a normally explosive Boston offense fits. The Celtics can try different lineup combinations as they please, but as their roster is currently constructed, it’s rather arguable a lineup they could produce that can actually handle the Cavs doesn’t exist.
Ultimately, the Celtics can’t win this series and the only way they can even win a game – let alone game two – will be if they outrun and outscore the Cavs. That’s basic common sense, to be sure, but the reality is the Celtics can’t defend on the interior, and that’s where Cleveland will attack the most. Even when their offensive aggression doesn’t work, the Cavs will keep going until they break through that wall.
Unfortunately for Boston, there is no wall. There is no resistance. Boston’s only hope is to find a way to tighten things up on the outside just enough to win an offensive shootout. Seeing as how they couldn’t get it together for a huge game one, it’s going to be tough to back them to do it going into game two. Odds are the Cavs get their 10th straight win of the playoffs – just like the Warriors – and move full speed ahead to a potential sweep.