NBA 2015 Playoff Series Preview: (2) Cleveland Cavs vs. (7) Boston Celtics

Kyrie Irving and the Cavs are heavy favorites over Avery Bradley and the Brad Stevens coached Celtics.
Kyrie Irving and the Cavs are heavy favorites over Avery Bradley and the Brad Stevens coached Celtics.

(2) Cleveland Cavs v. (7) Boston Celtics

Cleveland odds to win 2015 Title: 11/5
Boston odds to win 2015 Title: 150/1
Cleveland odds to win 2015 East: 1/2
Boston odds to win 2015 East: 66/1

Odds c/o Bovada

Series Prices: CLE -5000; BOS +1700
c/o Bookmaker

There are few expecting the Boston Celtics to have any chance in this series. NBA Live odds at Bookmaker gave heavy opening odds in favor of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James, setting the series price at -5000 for the Cavs. For an explanation of how to bet any of the above see our NBA odds explained.

LeBron James single-handedly turned around the Cavaliers franchise. Meanwhile, his former mates in Miami failed to make the postseason (although we wish Chris Bosh the best in recovery, whose absence accounted for the Heat’s fate). James is nearly indisputably labelled the face of the NBA, and though his personality and decisions (or, “Decision”) have drawn him the ire of NBA fans in the past, his decision to return back to Cleveland has seemingly had nothing but positive radiance on his image.

The Cavaliers are arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference. At mid-season, the Cavs made several acquisitions including J.R. Smith and Timfoey Mozgov, both of whom have thrived in Cavaliers offense. Everyone seems to do better with James attracting so much attention and passing so adeptly, and Kyrie Irving has been able to maintain his usual shot volume to put up big numbers. The real conundrum for Cleveland all season really has been the mediocre play of power forward Kevin Love.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said Love was not assured of an extension, a statement to which Love took no offense, fully admissive of his struggles. The cause of them is less clear. Players have off-years with some frequency, but at this point it’s difficult to just say that is what it is without seeing the subsequent turnaround back to his former dominance displayed while in Minnesota. Love was at one point nearly indisputably the best 4-man in the league, with compelling cases also made for Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Dirk Nowitzki.

It’s hard to argue that Love even belongs in that class anymore. He did get things going in his last eight games, hitting 49.5 percent from the floor en route to 15.3 points per game, while also grabbing 6.9 boards a game. But that isn’t anywhere near the production he exhibited as a Timberwolf when he averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds per game in 2011-12, or even most recently last year when he shot 37.6 percent from three point range while averaging 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and over four assists per game.

Love is still posting above-average numbers (see: PER 18.89), but his stranglehold on the 4-spot is less assured. Tristan Thompson has played too well not to get some minutes, and the Cavs will have decisions to make with Thompson entering restricted free agency and Love being on a player option. Love will most assuredly exercise his option, but he is an unrestricted free agent int 2016, and that is when things will get dicey. He’s exhibited superstar potential, or even play, before, but it is yet to be seen that he can comfortably get back to playing on the level he has in the past.

Love’s scoring numbers have not been this low since 2009–10, his sophomore season in the NBA. It’s just that when people envisioned a Big 3 in Cleveland, it was expected this third of the three would have a much larger impact.

We saw Chris Bosh decline in a similar manner in Miami though, so perhaps it isn’t just that advantageous to be a court stretching power forward while playing with James. LeBron is basically a small forward whose role in the offense differs from 1 to 4 within the sets, but his tendency to bully it inside requires teammates to give him space to do so. Love can step out for threes, and as the season wore on his percentage climbed close to what it was last year, settling at 36.7 percent on 5.2 attempts per game. Last year he took about six shots more per game in Minnesota, so the Cavs need to make a concerted effort to get more out of Love and feed him the ball. If he flops and hits at a low clip, that becomes a decision that is lived with.

Brad Stevens has done an incredible job with a talent weak Boston Celtics team this season. He hasn’t even had the benefit of a stable roster. His starting point guard Isaiah Thomas was acquired mid-season, while team leader Jeff Green was dealt. The C’s have an interesting array of talents whose collective values are bound to be underestimated. Brandon Bass is a pure workhorse who can put up big scoring in small stretches, averaging 10.6 points per game in 23 minutes a night. Jared Sullinger is a strong and big body, and he’s developing nicely along with Kelly Olynyk, whose court stretching abilities help the Celtics keep the court spaced. Olynyk suffered a head injury in the last game of the regular season but is expected to be good to go.

The spacing enables Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart to attack the basket. Bradley has made major strides offensively to pair with his suffocating and pestering defense, and he will be ready to go after missing the last two games with a bum ankle. Smart has struggled mightily from the field, however, shooting just 36.7 percent from the floor on seven shot attempts per night. He’s shown every bit of the defensive talents he was drafted for and billed to possess, but he’s not been even adequate all the time offensively.

Evan Turner is a stat stuff and plays a very creative brand of basketball, but the creativity often manifests itself in nothing but a high turnover tally. Turner has reduced his turnovers to 2.4 per game this season, though, which given 5.5 assists gives him a passable 2.3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. The Celtics have a lot going for them and are rightfully proud to be in the postseason, but this series is just too heavily stacked against them with a team as formidable as the second-seeded Cavs. James is not going to bow out in the first round, no matter how gritty the Celtics are.

Prediction: Cavs in 4

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