Eastern Conference Outlook
May 11, 2018
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Do We Dare Doubt The Celtics?
We’ve been in this situation before with Boston. They’re up against yet another superstar in a playoff series they have no business competing in given their injury tattered roster. After dealing with a handful of Giannis Antetokounmpo over seven games, and then actively shutting down Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers in a great performance, the Boston Celtics now stare down the barrel of a shotgun named LeBron James.
The easy route here is to just say that the Celtics don’t have the horses to keep up with the Cavaliers, who are coming off a sweep of the mentally shattered Toronto raptors. Normally, the series with the best player usually wins out in the NBA playoffs. But as I said, the Celtics have overcome the odds so far. It’s not as simple as saying that the Cavaliers are going to rip through them.
Playoff basketball is a completely different animal, and one that Brad Stevens has seemingly figured out how to tame. It’s one thing to take out a mismanaged Bucks team, or the young and inexperienced Sixers. The downside is that the Celtics have played 13 games. The upside is that they’ve fine tooled their new-look set over the course of 13 action packed games.
Dealing with LeBron James is a different kettle of wild beasts, but this Celtics squad is groomed for this moment. Born through hellfire, so to speak.
The oddsmakers have determined that the longer the series goes on, the more it favors the Boston Celtics. Their series odds get stronger as the series moves along, with a Win in 7 games posting the strongest number overall at +650. Cleveland is the heavy favorite overall, as you can tell by the futures.
Eastern Conference Series Exact Game Outcome Odds - per BetOnline.ag
Cleveland Win in 6 +300
Cleveland Win in 5 +400
Cleveland Win in 4 +500
Cleveland Win in 7 +500
Boston Win in 7 +650
Boston Win in 6 +1000
Boston Win in 5 +1200
Boston Win in 4 +2500
If there’s anything that you should keep in mind, it’s that we’ve only seen this Cavaliers team for basically five games. They emerged from the Pacers series born anew, and then lined up against a Toronto team that they have complete confidence against. What we haven’t seen is the Cavaliers come unhinged, or put up against the wall. And it can happen. This is the playoffs, after all.
One of the reasons that people are so up in arms about the Raptors getting swept is that the Cavaliers are imperfect. It’s true that they have seemingly morphed back in to their 2016 NBA Champion form, with the same players. But if there’s a flaw in their game Stevens is going to dig it out and bring it to the surface.
The largest issue for the Cavaliers remains their interior defence. They allowed 50, 62, 42 and 52 points in the paint against Toronto. It’s a weakness that Toronto rarely exposed, and one that they also had. Boston doesn’t necessarily present themselves as a team that can really dominate on the inside, but they absolutely have the weapons.
The Celtics ranked 28th in percentage of points in the paint with just 38.3 percent. That’s because they were largely designed as a perimeter team with Kyrie Irving. It requires a big gear change, but it’s one that the Celtics are capable of. Al Horford is coming off a sneaky remarkable series where he dominated Joel Embiid. He has absolutely taken the mantle as the go-to guy for the Celtics.
And where Toronto lacked any semblance of a game plan to exploit the Cavaliers’ soft perimeter and interior defence, the Celtics are not going to shy away. From the incredible development of Scary Terry Rozier, the continued brilliance of the Jay’s (Brown and Tatum) and the always incredible outbursts from Marcus Smart, there’s plenty of weapons here.
Cleveland is a bigger, more experienced team with a loaded canon in the form of LeBron James. He’s not the issue. Nor is Kevin Love. It’s the remainder of the team.
Boston doesn’t just beat you straight up – they spread you thin by always assaulting with five capable scorers. If Cleveland runs J.R. or Korver out there too long, the Celtics will slither through the holes that they provide defensively.
Mentally, the Celtics are way stronger than the fragile Raptors and that’s an important component to this series. With Kyrie Irving, they would have the x-factor they need to put the Cavaliers to task (and oh the drama!), but even without him they’re not a team you can just put to bed before the series even starts. But they have Brad Stevens and that has proven to be rocket fuel for them.
Eastern Conference Schedule
Game 1 – Cleveland at Boston (Sun, 5/13)
Game 2 – Cleveland at Boston (Tues, 5/18)
Game 3 – Boston at Cleveland (Sat (5/19)
Game 4 – Boston at Cleveland (Mon, 5/21)
Game 5 – Cleveland at Boston (Wed, 5/23)
Game 6 – Boston at Cleveland (Fri, 5/25)
Game 7 – Cleveland at Boston (Sun, 5/27)
I’m not entirely convinced that Cleveland is this unstoppable juggernaut. You might be and that’s totally fair. I’m just not inclined to lean away from Boston just yet. They’re a heftier spread bet than you might naturally assume, and by the way they have home court advantage.
Toronto was a weak and pathetic excuse of a playoff team that shriveled in the moment. They were outplayed, and under-coached. Boston has such an intangible with Stevens’ approach to the game.
All I’m saying is that we’ve only had four games of this Cleveland team. Maybe five if you include Game 7 against Indiana. They’ve been on a roll, and if there’s anyone on the planet who can muck up the gears of the Cavaliers, it’s the Celtics and Brad Stevens.
Again, if you’re happily convinced that LeBron James is King, you’re entitled to that opinion. I just think that there’s a way to score on the defensively inept Cavaliers. Oladipo did it. The Celtics can too. I’m more convinced that Boston can steal a few games in this series than most, and that’s largely because I’m resisting the natural urge to fall under the spell of LeBron.
Luckily, the oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag have crafted When Series Ends odds that don’t have a winning team attached. It’s hard to convince myself outright that the Celtics can actually win four games. I mean, it’s LeBron after all.
But I have 13 games of proof that the Celtics are a legit threat, and I have an entire season of the Cavaliers in-fighting, laying down and being victims of their own reliance on LeBron. This is not a perfect team. This is not a team that you should be comfortable on. If you’re going to bet on Cleveland, they’re most likely to win in 6. And if you’re going to swing the other way, it will take seven games for Boston to rip the mantle.
My choice is to play it safe, and bet on two futures that share similar odds. This allows me to sit back and marvel at either the spectacle that is LeBron James, or the genius of Brad Stevens at the same time.
Eastern Conference Series Prediction: Series Ends Game 6 (+225) or 7 (+240)
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