After waiting eight days, the Cleveland Cavaliers finally know who they will be battling in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Boston Celtics defeated the Washington Wizards 115-105 on Monday night’s Game 7 behind Isaiah Thomas’s 29 points and 12 assists. The two teams will now square off for their first playoff matchup since the 2015 opening round in which the Cavaliers swept the Celtics. Despite the Cavaliers looking like an unstoppable force through the first two rounds, this Celtics team is much different from the last time these two competed in the postseason. This time around, the Celtics will be playing hosts to the Cavaliers in Game 1 of their playoff matchup.
The Cleveland Cavaliers enter this series well rested having not played a game since since May 7, while the Celtics may be fatigued earning just one day of rest after their hard-fought series with Washington. When looking at the regular season, the Cavaliers took the season series 3-1 including a 114-91 win just before the final week of the season. Even though the Cavaliers finished with the lower seed heading into the playoffs, Boston has dealt with a much more difficult path to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. David Glasier of the News Herald wrote about the Cavaliers’ rest heading into the finals and quoted coach Tyronn Lue on the upcoming series.
“I mean, it’s time. We got here faster than Boston did. They scratched and clawed their way. That shows the team they had all season. Now we’re both here and it’s time. They’re pretty excited. I know we’re excited as well.”
The Cavaliers led by LeBron James have shown how impactful rest can be before the start of a playoff series. James has played his best basketball over the last several months due to the amount of rest he has been given. With fresh legs, it will be difficult to stop him and the Cavaliers’ dynamic offense on a nightly basis. The Boston Celtics have momentum carrying them into this series, but outside of Isaiah Thomas, there aren’t many high scorers for Brad Stevens’ team to keep them in this series. Besides the fact that the Celtics have home field advantage in this series, they will need many things to go their way to have a shot against this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers team.
Celtics bench: 48 points, 1 turnover
Wizards bench: 5 points, 2 turnovers.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 16, 2017
The Celtics outscored the Wizards in bench points during Game 7 by 43 points led by Kelly Olynyk’s 26 points. The Cavaliers rely on Kyle Korver and Channing Frye off the bench when their starters need rest, so the Celtics must take full advantage of James not on the floor and outperform these Cleveland bench players. Another player who must continue to play big is Celtics’ center Al Horford. He has averaged 16.1 PPG and 7.5 RPG this postseason and has a huge assignment in the upcoming series with the Cavaliers. Horford must be able to knock down his perimeter jumpers to keep Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love out of the paint. His performance throughout this series may very well dictate Boston’s chances at advancing to the NBA Finals.
LeBron James seems ready to defend his title in the NBA Finals, but realizes the Celtics aren’t going to be a cake walk like most of the media has made them out to be. Tom Withers from AP wrote about James’ comments about the Celtics and quoted him in his article.
“They’re a worthy opponent. We have to game plan every game. We have to game plan for what they bring to the table. And we have to mentally focus on our challenges that we have every game.”
With an undefeated 2017 postseason record, it will be difficult to pick against the Cleveland Cavaliers in this series, but the No. 1 seeded Celtics have the best shot of anyone in the Eastern Conference.
[Featured Image by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images]