The Boston Celtics weren’t expected to get challenged this early in the playoffs, considering the franchise cruised to a league-best 66-16 record during the regular season. Despite the accolades achieved during the 82-game schedule, head coach Doc Rivers and company faces their second consecutive Game 7 in the postseason.
Boston answered the bell in the first round against Atlanta with a wire-to-wire 99-65 blowout victory. Stopping a young Hawks team is one thing but holding off the defending Eastern Conference champions will be a much tougher task.
Cleveland forced Sunday’s installment by holding off Boston 74-69 on Friday as a 2 ½-point home favorite. The combined 143 points never threatened the closing total of 178 ½ points.
What’s amazing about the five-point victory for the Cavs is that they played horrible, at least from an offensive perspective. Mike Brown’s team shot 33 percent from the field, including a 5-of-16 (31%) mark from 3-point land. LeBron James scored 32 of the team’s points, getting almost a third (13-of-15) of his points from the free throw line.
|Ray Allen hasn't been able to find his shot against the Cavaliers. (AP Images)
Boston shot the ball better (39.7%) than Cleveland, but earned 12 less trips (25-13) to the free throw line. The Celtics 3-point shooting was once again awful (4-of-16) and a lot of the blame is falling on Ray Allen. The sharpshooter has been anything but in this series and for that matter the entire playoffs. He’s only eclipsed his scoring average (17.5 PPG) once in the postseason and is shooting 32 percent from downtown in the playoffs.
Allen is career 39.7 percent shooter from beyond the arc and he’s aware of the slump. “It’s frustrating because I know I can help,” said Allen.
Boston backers can only help he’ll bust out of his slump and his recent comments appear he’s not going down without a fight. “No, I got to shoot the ball,” he said. “I got to shoot the ball. It's not shooting the ball very sporadically. It's developing a rhythm. It's not something where if I shoot the ball once every four or five minutes it's hard to develop a rhythm that way."
Kevin Garnett lived up to his billing in Game 6 with 25 points and eight rebounds. Paul Pierce rounded out the "Big Three" with 16 points.
Most books have Boston listed as an eight-point favorite in Sunday’s battle despite only covering one of the first six games.
Even though the Celtics are 1-5 ATS in this series, the club is a perfect 7-0 straight up at home in the postseason. Those expecting Boston to advance to the conference finals can back them on the money-line at a steep price of minus-400 (Bet $400 to win $100). The Cavaliers can be purchased anywhere from plus-300 to plus-350 (Bet $100 to win $350) for the outright victory.
The home team owns an incredible 21-2 SU record in the second round of the postseason according to our Playoff Results.
This matchup and the Spurs-Hornets Game 7 battle will be the 99th and 100th Game 7 in NBA playoff history. In the first 98 battles, the home team owns a 79-19 (80.6%) record. On another note, the Celtics own a 15-3 record in Game 7’s at home.
LeBron James has only played in one Game 7, which occurred in the 2006 playoffs. The All-Star filled up the stats sheet for 27 points but the Cavaliers were still embarrassed 79-61 by Detroit.
The ‘under’ has gone 4-2 in this series and the books are expecting another low-scoring affair on Sunday, dropping the total to a series-low 174 points.
Tip-off for Game 7 is slated for 3:30 p.m. EDT, with ABC providing national coverage.
Chris David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org