It’s no surprise who the favorite to win the Eastern Conference Finals will be. LeBron James has taken the Cavaliers to the NBA finals three years in a row. Before returning to the Cavs, his Miami Heat went to the finals four consecutive years. It seems that whichever team LeBron plays for makes it to the championship.
Who Will Guard LeBron?
When any team faces LeBron, the big question is how to guard him. He’s dangerous from anywhere on the court. He has almost unlimited range from behind the three point arc. He can slash to the basket better than anyone in the league. And his post moves rival those of any center the NBA has to offer.
So who is supposed to guard a player so lethal? It is likely that the Celtics will use a combination of tactics, switching players in and out of covering James and double-teaming when necessary. In order to put LeBron off his game, the Celtics will have to throw as many looks at him as possible.
For the most part though, Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart are slotted to be the primary defenders for James. Morris, a 6’ 9” small forward is the best match the Celtics have for James’ bulk and agility. Smart, a point guard at only 6’ 4” is a scrappy defender who plays harder than anyone on the team. Between those two and a few looks here and there from point guard/forward Jaylen Brown, the Celtics hope to keep LeBron at bay.
Other Matchups to Watch
LeBron is main player to fear on the Cavaliers but he is by no means their only weapon. Power forward Kevin Love is also a dynamic threat on the court. At 6’ 10” he’s a force down low but also has a good outside shooting game. Matched against Boston’s Al Horford, Love will have an interesting challenge. Both big men not only play hard in the post but have good mid-range games not to mention their ability to shoot threes. One wonders if their similar strengths will cancel each other out or one of the will emerge dominant.
Point Guard Dual
Due to injuries on both sides the point guard matchup is not what it could have been. Cleveland’s star point guard, Kyrie Irving, who helped the team so much in last year’s post season left the team for Boston. But due to an injury in March has been absent from the Celtics lineup in this year’s playoffs.
The Cavaliers are also missing their starting point guard Isaiah Thomas due to injuries. But there will be a battle at the point guard position nonetheless. Terry Rozier, the point guard for Boston has had an amazing post season thus far. He average over sixteen points per game in the regular season and scored over ten in the last three games against the 76ers. He’s been a hard worker for the Celtics and his energy will no doubt encourage the team as they come up against LeBron.
The Cavs will be starting George Hill at point guard. At thirty-two he’s almost ten years older than Rozier. Clearly the more experienced player, and averaging almost 12 points per game over his career, he will not be an easy cover for the younger Boston point guard.
Their Last Meeting
In the regular season the two teams met for a three game series that left the Cavs with two wins and the Celtics with one. During the series LeBron averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists per game. Although not an unusual performance for James, the Celtics may have to do better defending him in order to have a chance in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Who to Pick?
If you’re putting money on the series, and many Americans will be, then of course the safe bet is Cleveland. Few people outside of Boston will have much faith in the Celtics. But that’s not to say they won’t put up a fight.
The Celtics have had a surprising good run this post season considering they are playing without their two biggest starts, Gordon Haywood, and Kyrie Irving. Their younger players have stepped up and come through big time.
With coach Brad Stevens at the helm, the team has a chance to be creative enough to shut down LeBron (as much as possible) and keep this series close. It’s unlikely the Celtics will keep James from an eight straight finals trip but don’t be surprised if the series goes six or even seven games.