2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals: Position-By-Position Breakdown Of Cleveland Cavaliers-Boston Celtics
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The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics meet in 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Here is a series breakdown position by position.
Point Guard - I said in my series breakdown between the Celtics and Bucks that Terry Rozier is a star in the making, and he’s shown that in two playoff series. Rozier has been an absolute killer in the playoffs, shooting almost 40 percent from three, averaging six assists and not backing down from anybody despite being 120 pounds soaking wet. The kid is a problem. George Hill is a veteran, can calm guys down and has chipped in double-digit points in four of his last five games, but he’s far from a difference maker at 32 years old. It’s another year where LeBron doesn’t have an elite point guard, forcing him to often play the position.
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Shooting Guard - In four games since returning from a hamstring injury, Jaylen Brown has shot 53.5 percent from the field, 50 percent from three and has averaged 15.3 points and five rebounds. Brown has improved drastically as a go-to scorer and continues to defend his tail off at the other end. Brown has that dog in him, has become the leader of this banged up team and has this type of confidence you’re not supposed to have at 21 years old. JR Smith has been hot and cold his whole career, and you’re never sure which guy is showing up. Smith is shooting 41 percent from three in the playoffs, but his impact isn’t felt consistently. He has to play a big rule for the Cavs to win this series.
Small Forward - Jayson Tatum isn’t even 21 years old yet and is playing like a playoff veteran, averaging almost 19 points and often defending the other teams top player. The hype surrounding Tatum before the draft is real. He’s already a beast on the court. However, the Cavs have the best player ever in LeBron James. This position debate is finished.
Center - Al Horford has become the clutch player on the Celtics, often making big shots when needed most and has remained an extremely underrated defender. Horford was key in the Celtics dominating the 76ers, as he was able to hold his own against Ben Simmons in the paint while going in deep waters to defend Joel Embiid on the outside. Kevin Love was on fire in the Raptors series, averaging 20.5 points on 47.5 percent shooting and grabbing 11.5 rebounds. Love plays like that and the Cavs are in much better shape. The problem is Love is a lot like JR Smith, he comes and he goes. There’s also an injury scare every other game with Love. I know Horford isn’t going to disappear for half a series.
Power Forward - Aron Baynes went from being the big dude in the paint and doing the dirty stuff to knocking down three balls and being a bigger factor offensively. Baynes made seven threes in the series against the 76ers and scored 13 points in the close out game. Anything Baynes gives the Celtics offensively is a bonus. Jeff Green is yet another Cavs player who is hit or miss, and he’s shooting under 44 percent from the field in the playoffs. Green is a capable player here and there and does defend well, but the 31-year-old isn’t exactly scaring anybody.
Bench - If the Cavs starters didn’t impress you, imagine their bench. Kyle Korver is the only guy capable of consistently contributing positive minutes to the Cavaliers. Tristan Thompson brings great energy to the second unit and rebounds well, but he’s no threat offensively. Rodney Hood left his talents in Utah and refused to play garbage time against Toronto. Jordan Clarkson hits the occasional shot, but he’s averaging less than five points in the playoffs. Larry Nance Jr. played just nine combined minutes in that Raptors series. The Celtics have two double-digit scorers off their bench in Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart, two guys who also get after it defensively and have that roughrider mentality. Greg Monroe is a veteran who is a capable rebounder and somebody who finishes around the rim. The Celtics bench is obviously extremely limited due to injuries, but give me those three guys over the pile of inconsistency the Cavaliers have.
Coach - If Brad Stevens didn’t convince you by now he’s not an elite coach, there’s not much I can do to help you. The Celtics are without their top-two players and are in the conference finals. He’s getting role players to play like stars and designed a game plan to completely frustrate two of the best young players in the league. Stevens has been pushing all of the right buttons and has inspired confidence that he can put something together to slowdown the freight train who is LeBron James. The guy is arguably the best coach in the league right now. The Cavs played better when Tyronn Lue was enjoying his leave of absence, and we all know LeBron does a lot of the coaching on that team. This is probably the biggest mismatch of the series.
Overall - Celtics in 6. I know it’s not smart to bet against LeBron in the East and he’s found a way to get this far despite having not a single player who he can count on night in and night out. However, the Celtics aren’t the Raptors. This team still has depth despite injuries and a confidence about them that’s not going to break. Every Boston player has this toughness and attitude that’s needed in the playoffs. There’s several players Stevens can throw at LeBron, and like the 76ers series, he’s going to force other guys to beat him. As I’ve said all season, the Cavs have nobody you can count on a nightly basis besides the King. I’ll take the deeper team with the best coach and home court, especially with that insane plus money we’re getting.