Michael Jordan faced off against the Bad Boy Pistons four times. Larry Bird dueled Magic Johnson in the Finals three times. Tim Duncan faced off against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers five times (and one more against Los Angeles when Kobe was injured). When LeBron finally hangs it up, there is no doubt that the Celtics will be one of, if not his greatest, rivals.
But the Celtics of today are different from then, and the reality is that Cleveland is a poor matchup for the Celtics. Boston does not have anyone who can truly defend LeBron, Timofey Mozgov is the type of interior scorer that has given the Celtics fits all season, and the Cavaliers have three-point shooters galore around their big three of LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love.
One might expect the Celtics to be happy that they made the postseason and graciously accept the sweep and take their money to Kentucky-Derby-Online-Betting.com .
But the Celtics did not make the postseason by accepting the inevitable, and that is not how Brad Stevens operates. And the Cavaliers do have one weakness which could be their undoing either in this round or in the future: they are not a very strong defensive team.
Since at least 2000, every single championship team but one has been a top-10 defensive team in the league as measured by defensive rating. The one exception was the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers. Even that team is a poor example, as they were notoriously prone for slacking off during the regular season.
Once the Lakers got serious in the postseason, they had the top defense and destroyed everyone on their way to a championship.
Maybe the Cavaliers are slacking off just like the Lakers did. LeBron James has been a step disinterested for much of the season. Who can forget this lack of a closeout around January? But since LeBron returned from his January sabbatical, his defense has become acceptable.
It is not unreasonable to think that he could make another jump in the postseason and become the defensive monster he once was.
On the other hand, who are the solid defenders on this Cleveland team? Mozgov is a good interior defender and we just discussed LeBron. But what about Cleveland’s other starters? J.R. Smith is no defender. Irving has been questioned for his defense for years.
He can get the occasional flashy steal like he did here against Golden State, but opposing guards drive by him more often than Cavaliers fans would like. And the less said about Kevin Love, the better.
So how can the Celtics take advantage of this poor Cleveland defense? For starters, we should look at just where Cleveland is poor. The Cavaliers gave up fewer free throws than any other team this season. They were also a top 10 team in opponent three-point field goal percentage. Thus, Cleveland is good at forcing their opponents off the three-point line and into the paint.
But what happens when those opponents enter the paint? That is when Cleveland’s defense starts to break down. The Cavaliers have the seventh-highest opponent field goal percentage when it comes to 2-pointers, and give up a lot of shots around the paint area.
Mozgov is good enough to prevent them scoring at the rim itself, but a good floater will just fly above him and land in the basket.
Therefore, the best way for the Celtics to win is to not try outgunning Cleveland from the three-point line. Instead, they should blow by Irving and Smith and focus on getting to the rim as much as possible. That should suit Brad Stevens just fine, as the Celtics are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league.
Irving and Love are as good or better on offense than they are bad at defense, and the Celtics will struggle to stop the Cavalier attack. But sometimes the best defense is a good offense. If the Celtics can pick up the pace like any young team, maybe they can wear down the Cavaliers by the fourth quarter and let Isaiah Thomas take over then.
It may be not be likely to work, but it has as good of a shot as any other strategy the Celtics can try.
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