If the Cavaliers win Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, they’ll be the overwhelming favorite to advance to the Finals leading the series 3-2 heading back home. If they lose, all hope is not lost, but their margin for error goes down to zero at that point on. That being said, the Cavs finally have the upper hand emotionally in this series after fighting back from the brink after falling down 0-2. They have the best player in the world. They need to win one in Boston. We’ll see if they can do it in Game 5.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics, Game 5
When: 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Enemy Blog: Celtics Blog
Online: Watch ESPN
Cavs injuries: None to report
Celtics injuries: Kyrie Irving (OUT — knee surgery), Gordon Hayward, (OUT — ankle fracture), Shane Larkin (OUT — shoulder), Daniel Theis (OUT — knee)
Three keys to the game:
- Will Brad Stevens finally give in and start Aron Baynes? The Celtics starters have been smashed by the Cavaliers since Cleveland moved to Tristan Thompson in the starting lineup, and Al Horford’s effectiveness has dropped off precipitously. Stevens wants to be able to continue to start Marcus Morris to throw him at LeBron James, but the Cavaliers rebounding and size advantage may force a change. Baynes murders spacing for the Celtics, and the Cavaliers have a much better chance at stopping them when he’s on the floor, but his physicality, especially against Thompson, is helpful. It’s a delicate balance.
- Speaking of delicate balances, how few players can Tyronn Lue get away with playing? At this point, the starters and Kyle Korver are the only particularly reliable players, with Larry Nance showing flashes and the Jeff Green/Jordan Clarkson duo flailing in the wind almost the entire series/postseason. Lue could drop down to an eight-man rotation if Jordan Clarkson’s four minutes were any indication, but he’s got to find minutes on the wing to rest his players at some point. You’re okay with playing LeBron 38 minutes a night, but the rest of the team shouldn’t be at that high of a benchmark. It seems relatively clear that Cedi Osman has not earned his coach’s trust, but at some point, he might have to play him if not just to sop up some minutes here and there.
- The Celtics were really able to take the Cavaliers out of their offense in the second half. A big part of that was the extent to which officials injected themselves into the game with a foul-filled third quarter, but it’s also fair to say that both teams are completely mugging eachother, especially off the ball. At some point, the refs were going to try to take control of the game. With that said, the Cavaliers were much less active off-ball as LeBron James punished mismatches in the second half, and they’ll need to rediscover some of those actions. The Celts were much better in switching off of mismatches before damage could be done, but those transitions are places to attack for a smart offense. Ideally the Cavs have watched enough film to identify where those opportunities can take place.
Kevin Love has played well despite multiple inefficient outings from the field in these Eastern Conference Finals. That’s all well and good, but on the road, we can expect the Cavaliers role players to take steps back from how they performed in Cleveland. That obviously means extra pressure on LeBron, but Love is this team’s second star. He needs to manufacture buckets and get to the line against a hyper-physical team that can cause him problems. Whether he’s posting up a mismatch or attacking Aron Baynes on the perimeter, Kevin Love is the key to this game for the Cavaliers offense.
Fear the Sword’s fearless prediction:
The Cavaliers are old and have tired legs. The Celtics know they can’t lose this game. Celtics 112, Cavaliers 99.