After a hiatus which undoubtedly had the entire team feeling stir-crazy, the Cleveland Cavaliers are finally getting back on the court tomorrow night. The Cavs, having swept the Toronto Raptors out of the Eastern Conference semis in convincing fashion, have been patiently waiting to find out who their next opponent will be. This answer was provided last night, a good eight days after Cleveland’s last game, when the Boston Celtics knocked out the Washington Wizards in Game 7 of a brutal series.
Now, the Cavs will head to New England to take on the top seed in the east for the right to go to the NBA Finals. Despite not having home-court advantage, almost everyone is predicting Cleveland makes its third straight trip to the last round of the postseason. The debate seems to be less about the Celtics’ chances of winning and more about whether or not they’ll even give the Cavs a good fight.
I don’t want to come off that confident about Cleveland’s odds in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston does deserve credit for putting forth one heck of a season, thanks mostly to the stunning campaign put forth from guard Isaiah Thomas.
That said, I feel comfortable enough to say the only thing which could prevent the Cavs from getting to the Finals is the Cavs themselves.
When matching these two teams up, there’s already a lot going Cleveland’s way coming into this series. The Cavs are the superior rebounding team. They have more imposing talent. Thomas, for all of his offensive ability, is a liability on defense Cleveland will look to exploit.
And, of course, the Cavs have LeBron James.
Top it off with the fact they’ve barely broken a sweat through two straight sweeps, and you can see how seeding isn’t going to be much of a factor.
These advantages are plain for us to see, therefore you know the Cavs are aware of them as well. They also know that, predictions be damned, Boston is going to give them everything it has to try and pull off a stunning series win.
Just how seriously Cleveland takes this will end up being the determining factor when it comes to who leaves this series victorious.
We witnessed last round what happens when the Cavs reach their full potential. Within roughly a game and a half of the Raptors series, it was clear a sweep was unfolding. Cleveland fired on all cylinders, imposing its will on a team many thought would put up quite a challenge.
Likewise, the Cavs showed only mild interest in the opening round, sweeping the Indiana Pacers while still showing off some of the unsightly warts we witnessed during a sloppy regular season.
Simply put, if the Cleveland we saw from the first round shows up, this series could be far more competitive than everyone is predicting. If we instead see the same Cavs which just decimated Toronto, it’d be a surprise if this match-up with Boston even goes five games.
The otherworldly performance the Celtics are getting from Thomas, the skilled supporting cast he has to work with, the offensive sets which should provide plenty of open looks, all of it will be null and void if Cleveland storms the court with a vengeance. Boston has firepower, there’s no doubting that. That said, if the Cavs take to the Eastern Conference Finals guns blazing, it won’t matter. Try as they might, the Celtics just don’t have enough weapons to take down Cleveland when it’s playing at 100%.
The only way the Cavs end up stumbling in this round is if their hubris gets out of control. If their confidence becomes cockiness, if they spend the entire series expecting Boston to cower in fear, it’ll come back to bite them.
The Celtics play hard and will try to agitate Cleveland all series long. If the Cavs let it get under their skin and allow it to negatively affect their play, Boston can take advantage. If, however, Cleveland shrugs off the Celtics’ attempts to get physical en route to establishing the dominance everyone is predicting, it won’t make a difference.
So, despite Boston owning the No.1 seed, the outcome of the Eastern Conference Finals will ultimately be determined by the Cavs. This round will either be difficult or a breeze, it all depends on how Cleveland approaches it.