By John 'The Dude' Hardiman, 985TheSportsHub.com
First Giannis Antetokounmpo. Then Joel Embiid. Now LeBron James.
Following Wednesday's Game 5 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in the semifinals, the Boston Celtics are now gearing up to take on James and his Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs for the second straight year.
The Celtics are advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in consecutive seasons for the first time since doing so 5 straight times from 1984-1988
— Celtics Stats (@celtics_stats) May 10, 2018
The Cavaliers are riding a five-game winning streak as they're coming off a four-game sweeping of the Toronto Raptors, after going seven against the Indiana Pacers.
As for the Celtics, they pushed their way through a seven-game opening round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. And now they're coming off a five-game series with the 76ers, where they had a chance to pull off a sweep, but fell short after a foul-plagued Game 4 in Philly.
In the beginning of the season most people had these two teams penciled into the East Finals. But when the Celtics lost Gordon Hayward in the season-opener, questions began to pop-up on how the Celts will respond with one of their key contributors out for the year.
And then during the final stretch of the season the Celtics lost their other stud player in Kyrie Irving for the remainder of the season.
This was a huge hit for the C's. But they responded like they know how. And that's to play as a team on both ends of the floor and to stick to the plan head coach Brad Stevens sets forth, because his strategies fool the opponent time and time again.
It's seemed to work out pretty well for the Celtics having now made it to the East Finals without two members of their new "Big 3" and the versatile Daniel Theis, who's been out since mid-March.
Boston and Cleveland met three times this season, with the Cavs taking the season-series, 2-1.
Cleveland took the first in Ohio, which was the season opener, 102-99. Then they split in Boston, with the Celtics taking the second and the Cavs taking their final matchup in blowout fashion on 'Paul Pierce Night' in mid-February.
The Cavaliers beat the Celtics by an average of 12.5 points, while the Celtics beat the Cavs by 14 in their only win.
Both teams matchup fairly well, but the Celtics have a slight edge in most categories coming into the post season and Game 1 of the East Finals.
So lets see where the Celts and Cavs stack up with the rest of the NBA to finish the regular season:
✔️ Cavs: 5th with points-per-game at 110.9.
- Celtics: 20th in points-per-game with 104.
Note: Points per game since Kyrie Irving went out with his ailing knee on March 11 (15 games): 102.1 PPG (-1.9), without double-overtime 100.9 (-3.1).
✔ Cavs: T-4th in field goal shooting percentage at 47.6 percent.
- Celtics: 21st in field goal shooting percentage with 45 percent.
✔ Celtics: 2nd in three-point shooting percentage at 37.7 percent.
- Cavs: 6th with a 37.2 three-point shooting percentage.
✔ Cavs: T-10th in free throw shooting percentage at 77.9 percent.
- Celtics: 17th in free throw shooting percentage at 77.1 percent.
✔ Celtics: 8th in rebounds-per-game at 44.5.
- Cavs: 23rd in rebounds-per-game at 42.1.
✔ Celtics: 1st in defensive rating at 101.5.
- Cavs: Second worst defensive rating at 109.5.
✔ Celtics: 3rd in points against per game at 100.4.
- Cavs: 26th in points against per game at 109.9.
✔ Celtics: 2nd lowest opponent field goal shooting percentage at 44 percent.
- Cavs: 3rd highest opponent field goal shooting percentage at 47.4 percent.
✔ Celtics: Lowest opponent three-point shooting percentage at 33.9 percent.
- Cavs: 9th highest opponent three-point shooting percentage at 36.8 percent.
The Cavaliers had their way with the Raptors, while the Celtics had some trouble with the Sixers. But the Celtics came up big down the final stretches of Games 2, 3 and 5, to pull off the wins in dramatic fashion.
Here's how each team is fairing through two rounds of playoff action:
|Opp. 3PT %||34.5%||35.8%|
*NOTE: The Celtics have played one more game than the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers are coming off a series in which they shot better 52 percent from the field and 41 percent from three, while averaging a whopping 118.5 points-per-game against the East's top ranked Raptors.
The impressive thing about the Cavs is that they took great care of the basketball against the Raptors, while only averaging seven turnovers-per-game.
As for the Celtics, they're coming off a series where they buckled down on the defensive end, holding the Sixers to under 43 percent shooting from the field in all but one game.
And the Celtics averaged a whopping 7.2 steals and 5.4 blocks-per-game through the second-round series.
Right now the Celtics have six players who are averaging double-digit points through the playoffs, with rookie Jayson Tatum leading the way with 18.8 points-per-game.
Tatum has been simply sensational during the C's current playoff run.
The Rookie of the Year candidate is averaging 18.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists during 35.2 minutes-per-game. He's shooting a favorable 45.9 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from deep.
And he did this during
Terry Rozier III isn't far behind with 18.2 points-per-game on 42.3 percent shooting from the field and 39.6 percent from three. And he's also averaging 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 37.3 minutes-per-game.
Al Horford has been an issue for opposing teams on both ends of the floor. He did a helluva job defending Embiid in the previous series and will now look to disrupt a guys like James and Kevin Love.
Horford has been logging 35.8 minutes-per-game, while nearly averaging a double-double with 17 points and 8.7 rebounds. He's also shooting a team-high 57.8 percent from the field.
After missing Game 1 against the Sixers with a hamstring strain, rising star Jaylen Brown is averaging 16.9 points and 4.8 rebounds, while shooting 48.7 percent from the field and a team-high 41.5 percent from three.
Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart are both averaging more than 10 points-per-game coming off the bench for the Celtics. And both can have a HUGE impact on this series with their defensive efforts.
Smart is always somehow involved in the biggest plays of the game and Morris is the guy the Celtics sought out during the offseason to be the combatant and defender of King James.
The Cavaliers are being led by the NBA's "best" player in James, who's averaging a NBA Playoff-leading 34.3 points, while sniffing a triple-double with 9.4 rebounds and nine assists. He's even shooting the ball well from the field at 55.3 percent, but he's only shooting 28.8 percent from deep.
Love on the other-hand is averaging a double-double with 14.7 points and 10 rebounds-per-game on 39.4 percent shooting.
Guards Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith are averaging a combined 25.2 points, while shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Game 1 of Celtics and Cavaliers will tip-off on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., with the C's holding home-court advantage throughout the final round of Eastern Conference play.
UP NEXT: The #2 Boston Celtics (55-27/0-0) will welcome the #4 Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32/0-0) to the TD Garden on Sunday afternoon for Game 1 of Eastern Conference Finals. Catch the call of the game with Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell, live on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Pre-game coverage begins at 3:00 p.m., with tip-off set for 3:30 p.m.
John Hardiman is a Digital Producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for John? Hit him up on Twitter @HardiDude or e-mail him at [email protected].
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