#505 Boston Celticsvs.#506 Cleveland Cavaliers
Written by Chris Kubala
Boston Celtics (9-7 SU, 10-6 ATS, 10-6 O/U) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-1 SU, 7-3-1 ATS, 8-3 O/U)
NBA: Tuesday, May 23, 2017, Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio, 8:30 pm ET
Line: Cleveland -15; Over/Under: 214.5
The Eastern Conference Finals continue on the shores of Lake Erie. The top-seeded Boston Celtics are on the road as they face the second-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of their best of seven series Tuesday night. After dropping the first two games of the series, the Celtics avoided falling in a 3-0 hole as they rallied for a 111-108 win in Game 3 on the road Sunday night. The Celtics hold a 124-78 advantage in the all-time regular season series between the teams though Cleveland took three of four this season. Boston has won four of the six playoff series between the teams but holds a narrow 19-18 edge in head to head playoff victories.
Boston looked dead in the water and destined to fall behind 3-0 in the series: they trailed by 21 points midway through the third quarter and their best player, Isaiah Thomas, is done for the postseason with a hip injury. Instead, the Celtics rallied, winning the game on Avery Bradley’s three pointer with 0.1 seconds to play for an improbable win. Boston closed the game on a 55-31 run to pull off the stunning comeback. The Celtics shot 46.2 percent from the floor and drilled 18 of their 40 three point attempts. Marcus Smart, starting in place of the injured Thomas, led six Boston players in double figures with 27 points in the win.
The Celtics come into this contest 7th in the playoffs in scoring offense with 105.8 points per game. Boston is 13th in the league in rebounding with 38.4 boards per game but stand 2nd with 27.4 assists per contest. Boston is slightly below average on the defensive end: they currently stand 10th in scoring defense, allowing 103.4 points per game. Isaiah Thomas leads the Celtics with 23.3 points plus 6.7 assists per game but is finished for the postseason with a hip issue that may require surgery. Jae Crowder chips in 13.2 points plus six boards a contest. Avery Bradley puts up 16.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists a night. Al Horford has averaged 15.4 points, seven rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. Marcus Smart chips in 8.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest. Tyler Zeller, Jaylen Brown, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier and Gerald Green are key pieces in the rotation. The Celtics currently are 6th in the postseason in field goal percentage as they shoot 45.9 percent from the floor as a team. Boston is 2nd in three pointers per game with 13 while the team is 6th in three point percentage as they hit 37.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Cleveland dropped their first game of this postseason but they have no one to blame but themselves. The Cavaliers held a 16 point halftime advantage, which they stretched to 21 in the third quarter. Things went downhill from there as LeBron James seemed tentative and failed to deliver much on the offensive end of the floor in the second half. Cleveland fell apart on outside shooting in the second half as well: after drilling 14 of 22 in the first half from beyond the arc, the Cavaliers were 2 of 17 in the second half. The Cavaliers shot 45.7 percent from the floor and went 16 of 39 from three point range while connecting on 28 of 36 free throw attempts. Kyrie Irving had 29 points plus seven assists while Kevin Love put up 28 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
The Cavaliers come into this contest 2nd in the playoffs in scoring offense with 115.5 points per game. Cleveland is 9th in rebounding with 42.4 per contest and 6th in assists by handing out 22 per game. The Cavaliers are 7th in the league in scoring defense as they allow 104.9 points per contest. LeBron James leads the team with 32.2 points plus 8.3 rebounds, seven assists, 2.18 steals and 1.45 blocks a night. Kyrie Irving contributes 23 points plus 5.6 assists a game while Kevin Love puts up 17.4 points plus 9.7 rebounds per contest. The team would like to get more from Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, Deron Williams and Tristan Thompson. Cleveland is #2 in field goal percentage during the postseason by shooting 49.4 percent from the field and is 1st by knocking down 14.6 triples per contest. The Cavaliers are first in three point shooting as they hit 43 percent from beyond the arc.
One has to think that Cleveland is still going to win this series, regardless of the hiccup of Game 3. The thing is, how much doubt creeps in when you can’t put away a team minus their best player after leading by 21 with 19 minutes to play? James was extremely passive in Game 3, seemingly to rely on Irving and Love to carry the load. Boston showed heart and determination to rally and ensure that the series will return to Boston. While they may not win the game, they can hang around enough to cover the line. Straight up, go with Cleveland but with the line involved, take the points and the Celtics.
Cleveland has to be a bit rattled: they went into Game 3 as the largest favorite ever in a conference finals contest with most books listing them as a 17 point favorite. For the first two and a half quarters, they played like it before falling apart in the final quarter and a half. James finished with just 11 points and went 1 of 9 in the second half. That’s a major drop in production from what we’ve seen him put up in the postseason. He didn’t get much of a respite either as he logged 45 minutes. Are the heavy minutes starting to wear down King James? Boston really tightened up defensively in the second half and Smart had a terrific game in place of the injured Thomas. Can he pull that magic out of a hat once again here?
The over is 7-0 in the Celtics’ last 7 Tuesday games, 7-2 in their last 9 Conference Finals games, 5-2 in their last seven overall and 5-2 in their last seven games against Eastern Conference competition. Cleveland has seen the over go 8-2 in their last 10 Tuesday games, 25-8-1 in their last 34 when their opponent allows 100 points or more in their previous game and 8-3 in their last 11 games on one day of rest. The teams have gone over the total in each of their last four meetings in Cleveland: look for this one to make it five straight.
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Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. He keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college, the NHL, the NBA and college basketball and MLB.