NBA Playoff Pick: Celtics vs. Cavaliers Game 3 Prediction
The Cleveland Cavaliers went out of their way to show the world that the Boston Celtics very well may be frauds as the Eastern Conference’s #1 seed. LeBron James and co. even made history in the process, as they bamboozled Isaiah Thomas and co., taking a ridiculous 41-point lead at the break and finishing with an embarrassing 130-86 win in game two.
The beatdown included three Cleveland starters with 21+ points, the Cavs shooting 56% from the floor and a staggering 48% from long range. Cleveland’s dominance knew no bounds, either, as the Cavs completely shut down star Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas (2 points on 0-6 shooting) and stifled Boston as a whole (37% shooting from the floor, 29% from deep).
It was a massacre, to put it bluntly, as the Cavs took a commanding 2-0 lead in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals in a manner that begs “let’s just end it now” narratives.
Boston was supposed to put up some kind of a fight on their home floor to start this series, but they didn’t do enough to get a win in game one and didn’t bother to show up at either end of the court in game two. With the series shifting to the road, there isn’t much reason to believe the Celtics can regroup and make this a competitive series.
Cleveland seems to be on a historic path, as they tied the record for the most victories to start a playoff run (13) and will be aiming to break that record in game three at home. The Cavs have been at their best all year at Quicken Loans Arena, and given Boston’s performance through the first two games of this series, the oddsmakers understandably aren’t giving the Celtics much of a chance as this series moves along on Sunday.
As bad as it looks, the Celtics aren’t completely out of it yet. Boston did come back from an 0-2 hole in the first round against the Chicago Bulls and we’ve seen insane playoff comebacks in the NBA playoffs over the years. It doesn’t look likely that we’ll be seeing more of that in this series, but NBA bettors need to consider all angles as they prepare to lay down some cash on game three:
Boston held the narrative card coming into this series. Despite earning the top record and #1 seed in their conference, the Celtics had been continuously disrespected and weren’t given much of a chance to outlast the Cavs and get to the 2017 NBA Finals.
Instead of actually fighting back against the critics and doubters, Boston succumbed to Cleveland’s will, forgot how to execute offensively and allowed the Cavs to do as they pleased on the other end. Isaiah Thomas has been busy suggesting te Cavaliers aren’t as scary as they seem, while bench player Jaylen Brown said LeBron James was merely human.
As it turns out, the defending champions probably didn’t love the idea of being downgraded in any way, even if Boston’s comments were born out of sheer logic. The point here is the Cavs set out to make a statement in these first two games and we’re all hearing it loud and clear: the Celtics are just a blip on the radar and this team is ready to defend their title.
The last thing anyone wants to see in the playoffs is a LeBron James-led squad gaining momentum and at this point the Cavaliers are a freight train with no brakes. Cleveland is punishing Boston by attacking the paint at will, while the Celtics simply don’t have the interior resistance to do anything about it.
Boston has always had a nice trio of perimeter defenders in Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart, but those guys haven’t been doing their jobs defensively and also haven’t picked it up enough offensively to offset the way Cleveland’s offense has performed.
Going into this series, it was fairly obvious the Celtics had to score the ball at an elite level for a chance to compete. Not doing that gives them zero chance to work their way back for a shot at winning this series, while the team we’ve seen through two games honestly can’t even hope to win a single game.
Boston has quickly resembled former soft #1 seeds like Toronto and Atlanta, suggesting that a seed is definitely just a number and home court advantage follows up as a rather miniscule advantage in the grand scheme of things.
There is still a chance that the Celtics find a way to tighten up defensively or the Cavs just don’t have it offensively. History has given way to Cleveland growing complacent in this spot, too. Cleveland took a 2-0 lead against the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, only for Toronto to fight back and make it a series again after winning games three and four.
We can’t really expect that to happen in game three, however. LeBron James and co. are heading home with a chance to go up 3-0 and then wrap this thing up at home in front of their loyal fan base. Odds are they’re not going to blow it against a team that isn’t defending and can’t consistently score the ball against Cleveland’s improved defense.
It’s fair to assume the Celtics will be better in game three than they were in game two, however. Good NBA teams know how to adjust and with their backs against the wall, Boston isn’t a bad bet (and actually a solid value) to come in hot and give the Cavs a mild fight. Cleveland still wins as they get closer to an inevitable sweep, but Boston could beat this gaudy spread. The Over is also an easy play if we can bank on the Celtics showing up a little more in this one.