• Dicky Fung

Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Boston Celtics vs Cleveland Cavaliers: A Date With LeBron James

Thanks to an unexpected Kelly Olynyk game, Isaiah Thomas and the Boston Celtics squeeze past John Wall and the Washington Wizards at TD Garden Monday night to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a grueling 7-game series that really tested the Celtics, but awaiting them are the defending champions Cavaliers, who has been itching to play.

LeBron James and his boys has been off since May 7th, thanks to their 4-0 sweep against the Toronto Raptors. The Cleveland Cavaliers won their 11th straight playoff game dating back to last season, and it seems to get easier for them with each victory. LeBron James is fully dialed in, and has dominated opponents throughout the whole post season. This will not change much neither against Boston, as the Celtics can only hope Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart will be able to stay in front of LeBron James.

We can write endless pieces on how great LeBron James is, because he’s really been that remarkable. In the three postseasons now since LeBron James has been back in Cleveland, the Cavs are an overwhelming 32-4 against the rest of the East, according to Elias Sports Bureau. That includes six sweeps in eight series. Through eight games this postseason, James is averaging 34.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks. He's doing all of this on 55.7 percent shooting from the field and 46.8 percent shooting from deep. The only players in NBA playoff history to even average 30, 7 and 7 while shooting 50 percent or better? The King himself, in 2008-09 with the Cavs, and Michael Jordan in 1988-89.

..When you're the best hooper on Earth, and you know it.

The basketball world is expecting a Finals rematch between Golden State and Cleveland, and they’re very much accurate about this prediction. No one is expecting the Celtics to beat the Cavaliers in a 7-game series, unless you’re from the New England area. The silver lining is that the Cavaliers will have a full ten days since he has last played in an NBA game, and coach Ty Lue has forbid key players like Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love to participate in contact drills and scrimmages to prevent injuries. Perhaps too much rest can turn into rust for the Cavaliers. The Celtics will absolutely need to protect homecourt they earned in the regular season, because they are not likely to steal a game in Ohio.

On 1 and 2 day rests, LeBron's winning percentage is 66%. On 3 days rest, it rises to 64%. On a smaller sample size, 4 days rest it balloons to 80%. Where on 5 and 6 days rest, LeBron's chances of winning are 78% and 69%. As Patrick Beverly once famously said "Men lie, women lie, but the numbers don't".

This is the longest layoff LeBron has had in the playoffs, and history shows he’s still remarkably good enough to put his team in winning position no matter how much rest he gets. It will be interesting to see how LeBron and his team looks on Wednesday.

Regular Season Series:

Nov 3 - Celtics 122 – 128 Cavaliers

Dec 29 - Celtics 118 – 124 Cavaliers

Mar 1 - Cavaliers 99 – 103 Celtics

Apr 5 - Cavaliers 114 - 91 Celtics

Key Matchups:

Al Horford vs Kevin Love:

Al Horford has come up huge in the playoffs, as he has really elevated his play for his new club. However, against the Cavaliers this season, he averaged a quiet 9 PPG 6 RPG 5.7 APG. He will need to carry over his stellar play from the Wizards series onto this one.

Kevin Love is probably the X-factor that everyone forgets. Because Kyrie and LeBron are likely to bring it every single night, the Cavaliers virtually become unbeatable when Kevin Love is also producing at a high level. Love averaged 23.7 PPG 13 RPG against Boston this season, and he probably remembers Kelly Olynyk ending his season 2 years ago with a shoulder injury. Love only averaged 12 points and 8.5 rebounds in the Toronto sweep, thanks largely to him averaging fewer than 30 minutes per night. Look for him to have a huge series.

Avery Bradley vs Kyrie Irving:

Isaiah Thomas is known to be a poor defender, and he is lucky to have someone like Avery Bradley on his team. Kyrie Irving averaged 25.5 PPG 3 RPG 6 APG 1.5 STL 52% FG 2.2 TO in 4 games against Boston this year. Expect Bradley try his best to contain Uncle Drew after having to chase John Wall from the previous series. Things definitely don’t get easier for Bradley.

Jae Crowder / Marcus Smart / Amir Johnson / ??? vs LeBron James:

I mind as well throw the whole Celtic team here, but the truth is no one can stop LeBron James. In my opinion, the only way to "contain" him is to attack him on the defensive end, making him defend while also trying to limit his drives to the basket. It's true that LeBron has become a very capable shooter from outside the paint, but you have to gamble on him taking jumpers rather than him penetrating for an easy basket or a kick-out to a shooter. The Celtics will not beat the Cavaliers if they allow LeBron to get his teammates going.

Key Stats: The Cleveland Cavaliers averaged a blistering 114.5 Points Per Game through 8 games this postseason. They are 8-0 in that span. The Cavaliers also hold a 3-1 regular season record against the Celtics. The only Celtic win was when they held the Cavs to just 99 points. The 3 other losses? The Cavs burned them for 128, 124, and 114 points. It’s a mammoth task to stop the Cavaliers offense, because LeBron runs the show.

It’s also no secret the Cavaliers loves shooting 3-pointers. They are shooting an unreal 43.4% from deep this post season. They are shooting far better than anyone else in the playoffs, Warriors included at just 37%. Celtics will need to be flawless on closing out to all the shooters when Kyrie and LeBron facilitates. The Cavaliers has impeccable spacing, thanks to the best player in the league.

Prediction: The Cleveland Cavaliers looked immortal in the first two rounds. While the Boston Celtics have shown the world they belong here, they already accomplished a major feat by reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. Toughness and grit can only get you so far, as LeBron and the Cavs are just a different beast than others in the East. The Cavs never cared for homecourt advantage, because they know they are more than capable of winning one, if not both games at TD Garden. Whether if it's good or bad for the NBA, it's a collision course that it's set up for a NBA Finals rematch trilogy between the Cavs and the Warriors.

LeBron and the Cavaliers are half way at 8 wins, with 8 more to go on defending their Larry O'Brien trophy, and he won't let a 5 foot 9 guard stand in his way.

Cavaliers in 5.

Eastern Conference finals schedule (all games on TNT; *=if necessary):

Game 1 – Wednesday, May 17, 8:30 p.m.

Game 2 – Friday, May 19 8:30 p.m.

Game 3 – Sunday, May 21 8:30 p.m.

Game 4 – Tuesday, May 23 8:30 p.m.

Game 5 * – Thursday, May 25 8:30 p.m.

Game 6 * – Saturday, May 27 8:30 p.m.

Game 7 * – Monday, May 29 8:30 p.m.

Do you agree with this prediction? Does the Celtics have anymore gas in the tank? Will the Cavaliers show signs of rust? Let us know @otgbasketball and @fungo24 !

#DickyFung #OTG #EasternConferenceFinals #NBAPlayoffs2017 #ECF17 #ECF #Cleveland #Boston #Cavs #Celtics #CavsCeltics #LeBronJames #LeBron #Basketball #IsaiahThomas #NBA201617 #CavsvsCeltics17