When the Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Boston Celtics tomorrow, it should be insanely loud at Quicken Loans Arena. Game 1 of this series, of course, marks the first time the Cavs have been in the postseason sincethe 2010 season. The environment in the arena, and downtown, should be absolutely nuts.
As the No. 2 seed, the Cavs are (rightfully) a big favorite over the Celtics. Cleveland, without question, has the three best players in the series - LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love - and overall the Cavs are just better. Still, the Celtics have been a really fun team since the All-Star break and can probably push the Cavs in a few ways in Game 1 and over the course of the series.
The Celtics offense really isn't that much different from what the Cavs run. Boston emphasizes spacing in the much the same way the Cavs do, although it's fundamentally different. Boston will often start sets by putting two shooters in the corners and then running high pick and rolls with Isaiah Thomas in the middle. Defensively, this can probably push the Cavs in some ways, as it could force Timofey Mozgov out of the paint more than the Cavs would like. It's vital for the Cavs defense to keep him inside as a defensive presence in the lane.
But the difference between how the Cavs and Celtics create space is simple: The Celtics don't really have 3-point shooting. Jae Crowder, who will probably defend LeBron for most of this series, is a sub 30 percent 3-point shooter and the Celtics don't have a guy the Cavs have to run out and defend the moment he gets open. Thomas is an inconsistent shooter. Avery Bradley is serviceable and Jonas Jerebko/Kelly Olynyk give Boston some sort of stretch four action. But there just isn't a dead-eye shooter on Boston's roster.
In comparison, the Cavs are loaded with shooting. J.R. Smith has been a 3-point marksman since becoming a Cavalier, Irving has become good to great from deep - either off ball or creating his own shot; teams have to account for Love on the perimeter at all times. For the most part, at least two of those three are on the floor for Cleveland and the Cavs can supplement them with LeBron James, who has seen his 3-point numbers are go a little down, Iman Shumpert, who has been streaky, and Matthew Dellavedova, who is also streaky, but good when left wide open. The Cavs also have James Jones and Mike Miller the bench if they want to put another shooter on the floor for a time.
This difference manifests itself in how effective these teams are offensively. While the Celtics have been much better as of late, in large part due to Thomas' arrival, Boston is 20th in the league in points per 100 possessions, while the Cavs are fourth. The Cavs' talent fits the system. Boston can't really say the same yet.
The Celtics don't have much, if any, rim protection. Remember when Tyler Zeller was a Cavalier? He showed signs, especially in his second season, of being a nice offensive big man coming off the bench, but he really was lacking on the defensive end. Flash forward to today and Zeller is the main center for the Celtics after being traded to Boston over the summer when the Cavs cleared cap space to sign LeBron.
To be fair, Zeller has really improved this season with the chance to play extended minutes. His offense has improved - he's shooing 54.9 percent on two-point shots and his TS% is just a tad below 60 percent - and he's been more than serviceable on defense. As you'll see in the video below, Zeller is playing with better instincts and playing more physically than he ever did with the Cavs.
The three blocks is an abnormal stat for for Zeller - he averaged less than a block per game - but he's providing a presence in the lane. No one else on the Celtics - not Olynyk, not Brandon Bass, not Jared Sullinger - can provide a semblance of rim protection. That bodes well for a Cavs team that, when they don't resort to isolation and play in space, can attack the rim furiously. It also doesn't hurt that both LeBron and Irving are fantastic at finishing inside and hey, that Love guy isn't too bad either.
The Cavs could let Kevin Love go to work in this game and series. Speaking of Love, if the Cavs were ever going to use Love in the post and establish him as a threat down low, this would be the series. The players Boston primarily uses as power forwards - Bass, Olynyk and Jerebko - just can't defend Love on the block. That really isn't a slight - it's sort of easy to forget that Love was a top-10 player last season primarily operating on the block and the elbow - it's just a reality.
But moving Love to the block could come at a cost. He is a huge reason why the Cavs can create so much space in the lane with certain lineups; he's a really good 3-point shooter and, again, his presence requires teams to keep a man within rotation distance at all times. It also might mean less post opportunities for LeBron and we've started to see in the past few weeks that posting LeBron - whether it's as a three or in small ball four lineup - is going to be a thing for the Cavs and understandably so. LeBron posting creates a nightmare situation for opposing defenses - you either have to let your defender try to stop LeBron near the rim or double him and risk him finding one of the Cavs many shooters on the wing.
But Love creates a lot of same problems. He's a really good passer out of the post and smart. A bonus here is that Love has perhaps the easiest matchup out of anyone in the Cavs' 'Big Three' this series. Bradley should, at times slow down Irving. Smart will probably be very physical and pesky with Irving as well. Crowder can do some things to slow down LeBron. But Love should have no such issues with his man and using Love on the block could help save LeBron for a later, more grueling series. Even if they aren't used for a long time, sets or lineups where Love is the focal point and he is surrounded by shooters could make the Cavs even more effective on offense.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction
With all of the emotion and energy in the Q, it's going to be an incredible moment for the Cavs as a team. If you remember, the last time there was a moment like this - LeBron's first game back at the start of the season - the Cavs laid an egg and lost to the New York Knicks.
But this Cavs team is totally different. Anything less than a Cavs blowout here would be sort of mind blowing. Cavs 107, Celtics 94.