2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals Series Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics

Cleveland at Boston
Game 1 Odds
Time: 2:30 PM CT (ABC)
Spread: CLE -1.5
Total: 204.5

Odds c/o 5dimes

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (but mostly LeBron James) spelled the end to the Toronto Raptors’ season in Round 2. The Boston Celtics dispatched the Philadelphia 76ers, in a bit of an upset. Now James and the C’s collide in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Cleveland is Game 1 favorites by a -1.5 spreads, but Boston has been tough at home and will look to strike first blood in Game 1, which tips off at 2:30 PM (Central) on ABC. The betting total is 204.5 according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.

James has been one of the biggest stories of the postseason. He used every fadeaway and trick in the book to take it to the Raptors, and now the Celtics are charged with the task of slowing one of the game’s most dominant players ever. Of course, the M.O. Brad Stevens may employ may be similar to what teams once did with Michael Jordan, in letting James “get his” while hoping to slow every single Cavaliers teammate.

Will that ultimately be the story for Boston, a team with plenty of depth and options but playing without its two superstars Gordon Hayward (who was injured in the season opener) and Kyrie Irving?

Irving, of course, was once a Cavaliers’ main cog, but an offseason deal sent him to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, who barely lasted a month in a Cavs uni once healthy. Dealt to the L.A. Lakers, the Cavaliers re-made a majority of its team at the 2018 NBA trade deadline, undoubtedly at the insistence of a frustrated LeBron James. While some of those new additions have struggled in Cleveland, the new-look Cavaliers have come together at the season’s most crucial moments to form a formidable postseason team. Let us take a look at some of the matchups of this series, and then, decide its victor.

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Backcourt: George Hill/Rodney Hood vs. Terry Rozier/Jaylen Brown

Terry Rozier has shown in this postseason that he is much more than a mere “backup point guard.” In filling in for Irving, Rozier has taken on the role of a major star, averaging 18 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. It will be up to Cleveland’s George Hill to slow him. Hill is a strong defender at the 1-spot, but Rozier made a killing last round against the Sixers, and he was even more dominant in taking Eric Bledsoe to school in the opening round.

Will he be a decisive force in this series? Expect him to play a major role. Rodney Hood has struggled and Jaylen Brown is significantly more athletic. Brown has averaged 17 points and five rebounds in his 11 postseason games this year, and he is explosive. Hood may have trouble covering him, too. Boston outclasses Cleveland’s new backcourt, but not as much as it would have, had Irving been healthy.

Advantage: Boston

Frontcourt: LeBron James/Kevin Love/Tristan Thompson vs. Jayson Tatum/Al Horford/Aron Baynes

The story here is that of a star rookie matching up against an all-time legend, LeBron James. While Tatum has led the Celtics in scoring in the playoffs and really made a name for himself, one must wonder how much success he can have against James on both ends of the court.

Tatum is averaging 18.8 points per game these playoffs, while also snagging 4.5 rebounds and dishing out 3.2 assists per game. James has been outright dominant, however. His averages of 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists lead the Cavaliers in scoring and assists, while Kevin Love has been quietly very good.

Love is averaging 14.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, but the Cavaliers are going to need him to really step up against Al Horford. Horford does not make a major statistical dent, but he is one of the keys to Boston’s offense and he is as solid and consistent as any veteran 4-man in the league.

Kevin Love may see time at the 5-spot if the Cavaliers opt to play Jeff Green heavy minutes, but Aron Baynes is better than given credit for usually. Baynes is strong and protects the paint, and he will use some of his six fouls on James, assuredly. Even so, with LBJ doing what he has been doing, this is going to be a tough fight for Boston, evidenced by oddsmakers favoring the Cavaliers on the road in Game 1.

Edge: Cleveland


The Cavaliers are going to need shooting from its bench players Kyle Korver and JR Smith. Smith has shot 41 percent from three in the playoffs, while Korver is lighting it up at 46.2 percent. Larry Nance Jr. is also a nice defensive player, and he makes an impact wit his energy.

Veteran forward Jeff Green has been solid in the playoffs and is averaging eight points per game, but is capable of exploding on any given night. The Celtics got some strong play from Shane Larkin last round, and Marcus Morris is a good stretch-4 off of its bench. Marcus Smart may play one of the biggest roles, as he will likely see time covering James defensively.

Edge: Boston

The Bottom Line:

One of Boston’s biggest advantages in this series is having Brad Stevens as a head coach. How he devises a plan to stop James, however, is beyond us. James is playing some of the best ball of his career at 33 years of age, and the Celtics are going to have to find a way to keep him from single-handedly ending its season.

Boston has surprised many this postseason in thriving with a third-year guard in Terry Rozier as its leader, and Tatum has been sensational. It just probably will not be enough against a motivated and thriving James.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 7

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