Now that the Celtics have (finally) dispatched the Hawks in Game 7 of their series Sunday, the NBA gets what it has wanted all along: LeBron James against the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in what should be the most entertaining of the second-round matchups.
It should be fun to watch and fun to play in but which team will be smiling once it’s done. Odds say the Celtics. I say the odds can be beaten and that King James and the recently recast version of his court have a solid shot at reaching the conference finals.
The teams played four times during the regular season and they split. Boston won twice at home and so did Cleveland. But that means nothing. James (left index finger sprain) didn’t play in the second of these games and the first three contests featured the Cavs of old – the ones that surrounded James before management pulled the trigger on February deals that brought Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West to Cleveland.
Sure all the new pieces James has to play with were in Boston in late February when the Celtics came away five-point winners over the Cavs. And it’s not like Wallace, Smith, Szczerbiak and West were spectators that night. They combined for 47 points. But look at that meeting as a one-off, just another of the 82 games needed to get us to the playoffs. It tells us little if anything about how a best-of-seven showdown will play out between these two rivals.
And while on the subject of what to disregard when attempting to get a read on a Cavs-Celts collision, throw out the fact that after all the wheeling and dealing done by Cleveland the Cavs were about a .500 team from the trade deadline to the end of the regular season. Trust me, the Cavs are anything but a .500 team and the Celtics know better than to look at them as that. There is no reason to believe that Cavs-Celtics won’t be a minimum six and possibly seven-game series.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
James is just getting better and better. The regular season he recently wrapped up was the best of his NBA career. He presents a special problem for every team in the league. The Celtics led the NBA in wins but they didn’t lead the pack in figuring out how to best defend James, who averaged over 32 points against them this season.
When it comes to defending James Boston’s in the same boat as everyone else. In a halfcourt slow-down game, James will be a difference maker and that’s by far the biggest reason the Cavs have a very good chance at taking the series. There’s only one LeBron and dealing with him at this time of year can be a downright miserable experience.
There’s so much talk about the Celtics’ defense but against the Cavs will come the acid test. Boston will put five sets of eyes on James and hope his teammates aren’t making shots. Can’t argue with that plan but if the shots are falling for those on the court not wearing No. 23 than the advantage goes to Cleveland.
Cleveland believes it can beat Boston. The Cavs will quickly forget about how their regular-season record was no match for that of the Celtics. Just as quickly they will remember who they have leading the charge. When the attack starts with James it’s not hard for any of his fellow warriors to be ready to battle.
The Cavs seem to have found a formula that will work to help them avoid long stretches in games where they don’t make shots. That was a problem a year ago, but it can’t be one against Boston or the defending conference champions go home after just two rounds.
Boston has some flaws, most notably its bench, which did not step up to the degree expected during the regular season. The Celtics also don’t get a lot of easy baskets. It’s the offense that gets Boston in trouble on occasion because the Celtics are a jump shooting team. Yes, they pass the ball and they share the ball, but it still comes down to making shots. Get a stretch where the shots aren’t falling and it could be spell trouble for Doc Rivers’ gang. In order for Boston to look like a 66-win team, it has to be consistent in its offense for four quarters.
Bad news for Cleveland is if the Big Three play well in every game. If they consistently can provide between 55 and 85 points a game, the Cavs will be in trouble. Allen and Pierce can get their own shots easier than can Garnett, but in any way of looking at it these three stars are potential poison to opposing defenses. By the same token LeBron can be lethal. Can't wait for the exchange of venom to begin.
Y! Sports: For Roy Hibbert, a sense of ownership means knowing he should have fought to get in the game with two seconds remaining in overtime, when his absence allowed LeBron James to hit the winning lay-up.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
Reason for optimism after Game 1 loss?
PBT Extra: The Heat snuck past the Pacers in the final seconds of overtime in Game 1, and PBT’s Kurt Helin breaks down where the Pacers can go from here. Paul George had a monster game, and Helin believes the Pacers have a real chance at upsetting the top-seeded Heat.
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