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

Apr 5, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) works the ball against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) works the ball against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics are the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but they’re definitely the underdogs against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.

They defeated the Wizards in Game 7, now Isaiah Thomas and the Boston Celtics will look to shock the NBA world as they aim to take down the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers.

Boston will certainly have their hands full, but there is a slight chance they can pull this one off. They’ll obviously need to start with containing LeBron, but Kevin Love could present matchup challenges as well.

The Celtics will need a legendary performance from someone each night in order to win four games against the Cavs. Now here is our preview and breakdown of how things could go.

Will Isaiah Thomas shine under the bright lights?

Aside from LeBron, Isaiah Thomas is the best player in this series. He will certainly break through with a couple of 35+ point performances, but Boston may need even more.

The 5’9″ point guard will need to have some legendary performances. If Thomas can go for 40+ points in a few games, the Celtics will have a chance. With that though, they’ll still need secondary scoring. Avery Bradley will be key here. If he finds scoring success, it will open up IT for more and more looks.

In the Conference Finals, you’re the only game on TV each night. Thomas will likely embrace the pressure and the spotlight. No one expects Boston to win, and he was doubted to begin his NBA career. He’ll look to put on a show against the Cavs for the entire world to see.

I expect at least two huge games from Thomas, but at some point the Cavaliers will aim to shut him down like the Wizards attempted to.

Boston will need to limit Cleveland’s perimeter shooting

The Cavaliers have been hot from behind the arc in the postseason. J.R. Smith may be the biggest threat from long range, but plenty of other Cavaliers can shoot the ball, including Kyrie Irving and LeBron James.

The Celtics may be able to keep up with threes of their own, but they will try to lock down Cleveland outside. Alot of this will come down to matchups. I expect Bradley to take on Irving, and that would leave Thomas on Smith. That may not be the ideal matchup and Brad Stevens will have to toy around with that.

I think physically Jae Crowder matches up best with James and that’s who should be on him for the most part.

Bradley and Crowder will be able to limit Cleveland from behimd the arc, but Thomas could struggle with his defense. J.R. Smith may have a game or two where he just continues to drain the long ball.

Can the Celtics fix their rebounding woes?

Through two rounds, the Boston Celtics have been horrible on the glass. They’ve been outrebounded in each series with the Bulls and Wizards, and sadly I don’t think that will change.

At times, it seems like the effort isn’t there on the boards. I understand they want to break out in transition, but they need to stay home and secure the defensive rebounds. You don’t absolutely need to outrun Cleveland, so stay back a bit and grab the rebound.

Kevin Love will be a huge challenge to overcome here, and Boston will need everyone’s best to contain him on the boards. Al Horford and Amir Johnson can cement themselves in Celtics lore if they help Boston advance with tough, gritty rebounding.

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Horford’s hot shooting

Al Horford has been phenomenal from 3 this postseason. He’s hitting over 50% and Boston hopes that trend continues.

When he’s hitting the long shots, it allows the Celtics to space the floor. That create open lanes and looks for the rest of the offense. When paired with Kelly Olynyk, that becomes even more clear.

While I don’t expect a 50% three-point shooting rate for Horford this series, if he can hover ner 40% the Celtics should be in a good position offensively.

Possible X-factors

I believe for Boston to win this series, Jae Crowder needs to be the series MVP. If he can contain LeBron James, by holding him to 30 points or less, Boston has a chance.

James will have games where he proves that he is the best player in the NBA, and that’s ok. Overall though, the Celtics need to slow him down. Don’t let him break free in transition. Don’t give him open looks. Contend every single shot and you can slow the best player in the league.


Sadly, I don’t think the Celtics will be able to pull this one off. That’s not to say they can’t win a few games though. The Celtics are a piece or two away from truly competing for an NBA Championship, and they may get those pieces this summer.

Cavaliers win the series in six games

Next: Celtics land the #1 draft pick

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals is tonight at 8:30 PM on TNT, and the series could run through the end of the month if it goes all 7 games.