Hey, the playoffs are almost here. We were chatting in the Fear the Sword email thread the other day, and realized that none of the ten or so writers on the staff have ever had the privilege of writing about a playoff series for a team we cover. That ends Sunday... which is pretty freaking sweet.
Today we kick off our group coverage by posting part one of a two part discussion on the Cavs' opening round tilt with the Celtics. Keep an eye out for part two coming tomorrow.
Without further ado...
1. I'm going to go ahead and assume everyone on this thread will pick the Cavs to win their opening round matchup versus the Celtics (we're saving everyone's prediction on the length of the series for tomorrow), but that being said, is there anything Boston does that worries you? Even a little?
Trevor Magnotti: Boston's guards are good at getting into the lane, which might cause some issues for the Cavs' defense, maybe. Isaiah Thomas can drive on anyone despite his size, and he's a 90th percentile pick-and-roll ball handler, per Synergy data. The Cavs could try to put J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert on IT, which would help negate this, but that throws Kyrie Irving onto Marcus Smart, who could try to bully Kyrie in the high post and off the dribble, or Avery Bradley, the team's best spot-up shooter. I'd expect Boston to try to get plenty of looks out of a Thomas/Brandon Bass or Thomas/ Kelly Olynyk pick-and-roll, because both of those bigs would present challenges for Timofey Mozgov or Kevin Love to recover to. However, these aren't legitimate stretch bigs, and even if Thomas is a great PNR threat, I think the Cavs are comfortable with letting Boston try to beat them with Olynyk and Bass pick-and-pop.
Kendon Luscher: In terms of winning a series? Not really. They have a few players who could get hot for a game or two and potentially steal a few wins. But that's true of every team, so no? I guess not even a little?
Mike Mayer: I guess I'm mildly scared of the one percent chance that Brad Stevens is some kind of master when it comes to coaching a playoff series, and David Blatt ends up not being very good at it. Even then, though, the Cavs' talent should be able to overcome just about anything.
Aaron Perine: I'm always a bit leery of a team with absolutely nothing to lose but, honestly the Celtics are about to learn a lot about the dangers of catching a LeBron-led team in the first round.
Chris Manning: Like Trevor said, Boston has some scoring guards that could give the Cavs' problems. This is by no means a series changing thing, as Isaiah Thomas and Co. are good but not elite and the Cavs are really freaking good. But it can create discomfort and exploit the weakest part of the Cavs' starting five. The PNR aspect is interesting and it might get Boston a game if the Cavs have an off night or something. Still, this being all the Cavs really have to worry about says something.
Justin Rowan: I don't believe Boston is a legitimate threat to win the series and any game they manage to steal would likely be a bit of a fluke. However, Boston does have a very good offense and are well coached. Their guards are going to be productive, but I just can't see Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger being able to contain the Cavs bigs or outperform them on the other end of the floor. If the Cavs go cold for a game, I could see them struggling to match Boston's offensive output and maybe dropping a game. But outside of that, there's nothing about them that stands out.
David Zavac: No. It's the NBA, there are no magic plays, and by the second half of game one, each team will be cognizant of just about everything in both team's playbooks. At that point it's about execution. I don't doubt that Brad Stevens will have his guys in the best position to execute, but it's on the players. The Cavs have better ones.
2. Which Cavalier will have the best offensive numbers in this series? Why?
Magnotti: I feel like it has to be Kyrie. Here are Boston's primary guards' rankings in ISO defense: Bradley is in the 65th percentile, Smart is in the 39th percentile, and Thomas is giving up a full point per possession in the 18th percentile. Neither Smart (Though he's aggressive) nor Thomas is a good defender, especially against guys going off the dribble. Here's a top-three off-the-dribble scoring point guard in the league. Good luck, C's.
Luscher: I agree with Trevor. I think it's Kyrie. Bradley COULD give him some trouble if he really locks in on Kyrie, but we are going to see a lot of Smart (rookie) and Thomas (little person) trying to guard him. That's not going to be pretty for the Celtics. Also, I think LeBron might not go at full throttle in terms of his scoring in this series. Something tells me he'll look more to set up his more playoff-inexperienced teammates this first round. I think Kyrie will be on the receiving end of that very often.
Mayer: I'm going with Kyrie as well. Boston doesn't have much in terms of rim protection, and Kyrie is going to get to the rim. He also has a knack for showing up on big stages, so I think he will rise to the moment in his first playoff series.
Perine: I'm going with Mozgov as he had a strong showing last week against the Celtics at the Q. Also, the Celtics don't really have a center and the lack of rim protection will be magnified in this series.
Manning: I too am going with Kyrie, although I'm hopefully this is the series where Kevin Love can get going against bigs that have no business defending him on the block or on the elbow. As noted by my colleagues, the Celtics lack rim protection and, even against elite defensive point guards, Kyrie has become elite at getting into the paint and finishing at the rim. Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, even though he's flawed, could give him some problems and make him work to get his buckets, but I think Irving is going to get them. A perhaps not bold prediction: I think Irving will go for more than 30 points at least twice in this series.
Rowan: I'm going with LeBron. I think the scoring is going to be balanced overall from the Cavs, especially if several of the games turn into blowouts. But I see him really setting the tone and reestablishing how dominant he is in playoffs.
Zavac: LeBron James. He's LeBron James. I'm sure he'll be content to see some of the other guys get things going. We might see some playoff chill mode. He seems to like having Kyrie sink a little bit before coming in to help him swim. But James is the safe bet and I usually take safe bets.