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Game 1 - Cavaliers at Celtics
Eastern Conference – Game 1
Cleveland at Boston (ABC, 3:35 p.m. ET)

2017-18 Regular Season (Cavaliers 2-1)
Feb. 11 Cavaliers (+4.5) at Celtics 121-99 (Over 213)
Jan. 3 Celtics (-3) vs. Cavaliers 102-88 (Under 212.5)
Oct. 17 Cavaliers (-4.5) vs. Celtics 102-99 (Under 214)

For the second consecutive season, the Cavaliers and Celtics will meet for a berth in the NBA Finals. Many faces are different from both squads heading into this series, but the one thing that remains the constant is the dominance of LeBron James as he seeks an eighth consecutive Eastern Conference championship.

Cleveland escaped past Indiana in seven games of the opening round to face top-seeded Toronto in the conference semifinals. The entire series shifted in Game 1 as the Cavaliers erased an early 14-point deficit to force overtime and knock off the Raptors, 113-112 as seven-point underdogs. Cleveland went on to rout Toronto in Game 2 behind James’ 43-point effort, a buzzer-beater from James in Game 3, followed by a 35-point victory to finish off the sweep in four games.

The Cavaliers failed to cover in their first five home games of the playoffs, but easily cashed as five-point favorites in Game 4. However, Tyronn Lue’s team owns a 3-2 ATS record away from Quicken Loans Arena in the postseason, while Cleveland has compiled an incredible 15-4 SU road mark against Eastern Conference opponents in the playoffs since 2016.

The Celtics also needed seven games to advance past the first round as Boston knocked out Milwaukee in seven games. It only took five games for the Celtics to reach their second straight conference finals after beating the up-and-coming 76ers, 4-1. Boston improved to 7-0 at home in the playoffs after edging Philadelphia, 114-112 in the series clincher on Wednesday as rookie standout Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 26 points.

Prior to the season, the Celtics acquired All-Star guard Kyrie Irving from the Cavaliers for Isaiah Thomas. Neither player is the reason these teams reached this point as Irving has been sidelined since mid-March with a knee injury, while Thomas was dealt to the Lakers at the trade deadline. Irving is still the focal point of the Celtics’ franchise, but Tatum along with Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier have been carrying Boston throughout this playoff run.

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While James has been the go-to option for the Cavaliers, four different Celtics are averaging over 16 points per game in the playoffs. Tatum (18.8), Rozier (18.2), Al Horford (17.0), and Brown (16.9) are looking to be the group to prevent Cleveland from making a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, while also trying to erase the Cavaliers’ dominance over the Celtics since Brad Stevens arrived as head coach in Boston.

Stevens has done wonders in Beantown to revive the Celtics’ rebuild over the years, but Boston hasn’t gotten over the hump against Cleveland in the postseason. In 2015, the Cavaliers swept the Celtics out of the opening round in Stevens’ first playoff appearance. Boston finished below .500 that season, but made the leap two years later to 53 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference. However, the Cavaliers bounced the Celtics in five games of the Eastern Finals last season, including three victories by double-digits at TD Garden.

The Celtics had their season ended by the Cavaliers in 2017 and had the good fortune of opening this season with a trip to Cleveland. Not only was it the homecoming for Irving in his first game in a Celtics’ jersey, but Boston also showcased offseason acquisition Gordon Hayward in its starting lineup. Hayward’s season ended in five minutes with a gruesome leg injury on a failed alley-oop attempt, while the Celtics fell short in a 102-99 defeat as 4 ½-point underdogs.

Boston picked up revenge in the next matchup at TD Garden on January 3 as the Celtics defeated the Cavs, 102-88 as three-point favorites. Irving was limited to 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but Rozier burned Cleveland for 20 points off the bench, including four three-pointers. James led the Cavs with 19 points, but Cleveland was limited to 35% shooting from the floor, while hitting 8-of-32 three-point attempts.

The Cavaliers overhauled their roster on February 8 and put it to the Celtics three days later in Boston, 121-99. Seven Cavaliers finished in double-figures as Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood combined for 32 points in their Cleveland debuts. Tatum and Brown managed only 14 points between them, while Boston knocked down 10-of-38 attempts from downtown.

Chris David of VegasInsider.com believes Cleveland will win a hard-fought series but beating Boston at TD Garden won’t be easy.

He explained, “Even though the line is short, it’s hard to ignore what Boston has done as a home underdog (9-1 SU, 10-0 ATS) this season. This particular group of players feed off the crowd on both ends of the court and that’s showed in the playoffs as the Celtics are undefeated in seven games. Cleveland has fought through adversity on the road in this year’s playoffs and the close-call victories over both Indiana and Toronto in the first two rounds were very impressive. However if the shots aren’t falling from the outside then it spells a lot of trouble for the Cavaliers. Especially when you realize that Cleveland has gone 1-7 in their last eight road playoff games when held under 100 points and that includes two losses to the Pacers in the first round.”

The total for Game 1 opened as high as 205 ½ and has settled to 204 as of Saturday. David weighed in on the total.

He said, “These numbers will fluctuate as the series plays out and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a total listed in the nineties if Boston’s defense comes to play. That unit did its job against the 76ers, holding them to 30 percent from 3-point land but they’ll be facing a confident Cavs squad that couldn’t miss (41%) against the Raptors.”

“While I don’t put as much stock into the Celtics offense, you can’t ignore the numbers that they’ve produced at home in the playoffs under head coach Brad Stevens. They’ve put up triple digits in six of seven at home this postseason and that’s translated into a 6-1 ‘over’ mark. Since Stevens took over, the ‘over’ has gone 15-7 (68%) in playoff games at TD Garden,” David added.

NBA expert Tony Mejia breaks down what Cleveland’s supporting cast needs to do to be successful, “Between April 15 and May 1, Kevin Love averaged 10.9 points and shot less than 32 percent from the field (30-for-94) over his first eight playoff games. In Cleveland’s last three wins against Toronto, he went for 25 points per game on 54 percent shooting, doing so without filling it up from 3-point range. If he’s over playing tentatively because he didn’t feel 100 percent, the Cavs may very well deserve to be as heavy a favorite in this series as oddsmakers think they should be.”

The Cavaliers opened as a -260 favorite on the series price at Sportsbook.ag, while the Celtics sit at +220 odds to win this series. To put it in perspective compared to last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, Cleveland was listed as a -550 favorite, compared to Boston at +420 as the Celtics owned home-court advantage both times.

You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at rogers@vegasinsider.com

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.

  
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