Back the Celtics to keep it close
By Dan Favale
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Boston Celtics (+5.5) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (-5.5)
Nothing went right for the Boston Celtics during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It became very clear, very early, that they are not in the Cleveland Cavaliers' class. Like, the game wasn't even close.
LeBron James turned the Celtics into his own personal chew toy, putting up 38 points and seven assists on 14-of-24 shooting. Tristan Thompson was a perfect 7-of-7 from the field. Kevin Love's hot start helped him to 32 points with a 6-of-9 showing from beyond the arc.
Simply put, Game 1 was a massacre, with the Cavaliers leading by as many as 28 points. That the Celtics only lost 117-104, for a deficit of 13 points, was a small garbage-time miracle.
Worst of all: There are no assurances life gets better in Game 2.
James shot 1-of-6 from three-point range in Game 1. Kyrie Irving was 0-of-3. The Celtics actually put down one more triple than the Cavaliers. Rivaling Cleveland's outside touch, or exceeding it, was basically Boston's entire offensive model entering this series. It was the only way they were going to keep pace or surpass the reigning champs. That the Celtics drilled more triples and still got creamed is a major red flag.
If there's any reason for optimism, it's head coach Brad Stevens. He is a whiz at making adjustments on the fly. We saw as much in the Chicago Bulls series, then saw it again in Round 2 against the Washington Wizards. He'll do what he can once again to tip the Celtics' rotation in the right direction.
This comes with the caveat, of course, that there may not be anything he can do. But you can almost bet rookie Jaylen Brown will be in the starting lineup Friday night. He defended James as well as anyone in Game 1; he deserves a crack at him again.
And, truthfully, this the Celtics' best chance at countering: Play LeBron one-on-one while locking down everyone else. They didn't do that nearly enough in Game 1, and it showed. They collapsed on almost everything, and he was able to torch them with a steady diet of kick-outs.
Neutralize the Cavaliers' spot-up shooters—particularly Love and Kyle Korver—and you give yourself a chance. The Celtics have the personnel to do that, with strong perimeter pests in Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley.
From there, it's a matter of knocking down more threes. Though the Celtics sank more triples than the Cavaliers in Game 1, they still only shot 12-of-38 overall. Bradley and Isaiah Thomas specifically combined to go 4-of-15 from long range, with many of their misses coming on quality looks. They have to be better. And they need at least one of Smart, Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk to join them.
Playing at home won't prevent the Celtics from losing. But this game should be much closer than the one we just saw.
The Pick: Boston Celtics (+5.5)
Category : Betting Picks
Tag : 2017 NBA Playoffs
, boston celtics
, cleveland cavaliers
, eastern conference finals
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