Network Notebook: Eastern Conference Finals Preview
CELTICS MUST LIFT THEIR GAME TO COMPETE WITH RECENT CAVALIERS JUGGERNAUT
If the Cleveland Cavaliers keep playing like they have been, then the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals are already over. It's been so long since they played…it's easy to forget that they swept a Toronto Raptors team that was better suited to compete with them than the surviving Boston Celtics are.
Cleveland beat Toronto by 11, 22, 21, and 7 points (the last two on the road). Toronto was a better offensive team than Cleveland in terms of per-possession efficiency during the regular season, a better defensive team, and a much better rebounding team. Boston will have to shoot lights out from three-point land to have a chance to pull off some game-by-game upsets in a series where the Celtics will be underdogs every time out. And, there's always a chance that Cleveland's newly refined three-point attack will match them!
The tricky part about doing a stat preview involving the Cleveland Cavaliers is that they have an extra gear they go to during the playoffs. We've talked about that in recent seasons. It's certainly been the case this year. That's why they're a #2 seed entering the brackets, but market-priced like a juggernaut. We'll keep that in mind as we run through our analysis.
Even though they coasted through much of the regular season, the Cavs were still third best in the league on a per-possession basis. In the playoffs, they seem unstoppable some nights because LeBron James is a force of nature. And, if you double-team that force of nature, he just kicks the ball to a three-point sharpshooter. Against Toronto, Cleveland was 14 of 34, 18 of 33, 13 of 23, and 16 of 41 on three-pointers. Boston's biggest team strength is on offense. But, in their "best" games vs. Washington, they shot 19 of 39, 14 of 31, 16 of 33, and 11 of 26 on treys. We cherry-picked the highlights. Cleveland "every time out" may be capable of neutralizing Boston's strength. As good as Isaiah Thomas is at driving and dishing, he's not as dangerous as "LeBron in playoff mode."
This is where the series could get interesting. Cleveland was pretty horrible defensively during the regular season, showing no interest in guarding with a passion. They did kick things up a notch vs. Toronto…but there's no guarantee they could maintain that over a tough seven-game series. Unfortunately for Celtics fans, their own defense is no great shakes. You saw that vs. Chicago and Washington. But, at least there's a potential for a bunch of shootouts that could go Boston's way if Cleveland's defense loses a wheel.
Boston is so horrible at rebounding that they'll have to make their shots to have a chance. They were embarrassed by Chicago before the Rondo injury sucked the life out of that team. Washington owned the boards despite being a guard-based team themselves. Cleveland outrebounded Toronto by 28 in just four games. The Cavs are likely to win this stat, and may dominate this stat.
Both teams played at a moderate pace during the regular season, and didn't mind faster paces in their earlier playoff series. Cleveland is more in danger of wearing down if things get too fast though. So, Boston might have a chance to steal the series late if they can shoot well early in fast-paced games that wear down the Cavs.
Cleveland is a big series favorite because the fundamentals favor them…and because they have the single best player on the floor. To spring an upset, Boston must shoot very well from long range at least four times, ideally in a fast-paced setting that weakens the favorite in later action.
Who will JIM HURLEY release to clients in Game One? We can't tell you that here in the NOTEBOOK. We can say that he's looking very seriously at both the side and the total as of press time.
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Back with you before the end of the week to talk more sports betting. Don't forget that this is PREAKNESS week…and that nobody handles the horses better than JIM HURLEY! When you call the office, be sure you ask about race day packages that include the big event, the full card Saturday at Pimlico, or the full card across the nation. JIM HURLEY has more horse racing clients than most places have sports betting clients! THAT'S WHY HE'S BEEN THE INDUSTRY LEADER FOR MORE THAN 25 YEARS!
Enjoy the Eastern Finals. LET'S GO GET THE MONEY!
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