CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers Scribbles as Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics in Boston looms:
1. I really believe this is a significant game, more for Boston than the Cavs. No matter what the Celtics say, every team in the Eastern Conference has major doubts when facing LeBron James and the Cavs in the playoffs.
2. Boston won more regular season games (53) than the Cavs (51). That gave Boston the homecourt advantage in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals. But doubts linger. The entire NBA has watched the Cavs “flip the switch” in the playoffs. Is there any way to make them vulnerable? The Celtics have to be asking that.
3. The Celtics are very well coached by Brad Stevens. In the playoffs, they rank No. 4 in defensive efficiency. The Cavs are No. 3, a sign of how they are a different team in the postseason. The Cavs ranked No. 22 in defensive efficiency in the regular season.
4. FYI: Golden State is No. 1 in postseason defense, Milwaukee was No. 2. The Bucks are out of the playoffs.
5. For Boston to give the Cavs problems, they need to defend. I never agreed with those who thought the Washington Wizards would be a tougher opponent for the Cavs than Boston. The Wizards don’t have any bench. They also don’t defend nearly as well as Boston. They have a brilliant backcourt in Bradley Beal and John Wall. Otto Porter is one of my favorite players.
6. But Boston is far more likely to slow the Cavs down and take away their fast breaks. The Cavs are overpowering when playing at a fast pace.
7. Boston is extremely vulnerable on the boards. There are 16 playoff teams, and the Celtics rank 16th in rebounding. Only once in the postseason have the Celtics out-rebounded an opponent in a game. So if the Cavs rebound (and they should), they also should be able to fire up the fast break.
8. The Cavs rank No. 4 in playoff rebounding. This could be a good series for Kevin Love to concentrate on defensive rebounding. The 6-foot-10 Love is averaging 9.1 rebounds in the postseason. It was 11.1 rebounds in the regular season.
9. Boston’s leading rebounder is Al Horford, 7.5 per game in the playoffs. The Cavs have faced Horford in the last two seasons in the playoffs. That was as a member of the Hawks. In those eight games, Horford averaged 13 points and 4.1 rebounds against the Cavs. He was not a factor on the boards.
10. Boston has former Cavalier Tyler Zeller, but the Celtics seldom play the 7-foot center. He has been on the court for only 38 minutes in the postseason. During the regular season, Zeller played 10 minutes a game and averaged 3.5 points.
11. I thought Zeller would be more effective as a pro, but it hasn’t happened. Like most teams in the 3-point shooting era, the Celtics use smaller, more athletic lineups. The traditional centers are losing value. It’s part of the reason Timofey Mozgov has struggled the last two seasons.
12. The Cavs are shooting 43 percent (ranked No. 1) from 3-point range in the postseason, Boston is at 37 percent. When it comes to firing up 3-pointers, here are the top five in attempts: Houston (38.5), Boston (34.9), Portland (34.0), Cavs (33.1) and Golden State (30.7).
13. The conventional wisdom is when your best player (Isaiah Thomas) is a 5-foot-9 guard, you have no chance to be a title contender. That’s especially true when facing LeBron James, all 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds of him. This time, convention rules. The Cavs win in five games.