Boston Versus Cleveland PreviewEastern Conference Second Round
#1 Boston (66-16) vs. #4 Cleveland (45-37)
Season series: 2-2
Cleveland can win if…LeBron James continues to play at an MVP-level, the Cavaliers win the rebounding battle and their defense performs at least as well as the Celtics'.
Boston will win because… over the course of this season they have more consistently been committed to playing playoff caliber defense.
Other things to consider: A lot of interesting questions will be answered by the end of this series. Are Boston's three stars better than Cleveland's one star? Does Cleveland's collective playoff experience from last year's run to the NBA Finals (and Ben Wallace's two trips to the NBA Finals as a member of the Detroit Pistons) give the Cavs an advantage over team whose three top players have never been to the Finals? Was the Atlanta series a wakeup call for the Celtics that helped them regain the necessary focus to make a title run or did it simply reveal fatal weaknesses in the makeup of Boston's team?
Based on what I've already seen from James I'd rather have him than have Boston's three stars, particularly in a playoff series; James can take over a game in a way that none of Boston's stars can. Cleveland's collective playoff experience was more of an edge for the Cavs before they traded away half of their roster; in some ways the Cavs are going through training camp and the playoffs at the same time as they try to familiarize their new guys with the Cleveland way of doing things. I think that the Atlanta series was both a wakeup call and a revelation; winning a seventh game together is a big step for Boston but at some point the Celtics will need to win a road playoff game and they have yet to play well on the road in the playoffs, let alone win a game there.
At the beginning of the season I definitely thought that Cleveland would be able to beat Boston if the two teams met in the playoffs. Then the Celtics turned out to be better than I had expected while the Cavs struggled to deal with holdouts and injuries before literally trading away half of the roster. Before the playoffs began I picked Boston to win the East and I still expect that to happen. However, Cleveland has a puncher's chance to beat Boston and the blueprint for that to happen revolves around winning game one to put immediate pressure on the Celtics to have to win at least one road game in the series. If the Cavs win game one then I think that they have an excellent chance to win the series but I expect the Celtics to prevail in seven games.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:42 AM