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It’s the continuation of the Eastern Conference Finals up in Beantown and it’s a rematch of last year’s conference finals. The fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers are on the road as they square off with the second-seeded Boston Celtics Tuesday night. Boston built off their strong showing in the conference semifinals as they pummeled Cleveland en route to a 108-83 win in Game 1 to draw first blood in the series. The Celtics lead the all-time regular season series 125-80 but the Cavaliers took two of three this season, including a 121-99 win here in the last matchup on February 11. In the postseason, Boston has won four of the seven series but both teams have won 20 playoff games in the head to head matchup. The Cavaliers took the last series between the teams, winning the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals four games to one.
Cleveland Cavaliers Seeking to Regroup
Cleveland looked nothing like the team that ripped through the conference’s top team, the Raptors, in the conference semifinals, and regressed to the way they looked at times against Indiana. The Cavaliers were never really in the game as they were down double digits for the final three and a half quarters. Cleveland was tied at seven early in the first quarter but was buried in an avalanche that snowballed into a 22-2 run that left them down 29-9 with 2:40 to go in the opening stanza. That pretty much told the tale on a lost afternoon in Beantown for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers have improved shooting the ball in the postseason: after hitting only 43.1 percent as a team from the field against the Pacers, they were up to 46.7 percent entering Game 1. Cleveland’s perimeter shooting is mediocre: while they are making 10.8 three pointers a night, they’re shooting just 35.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Cavaliers have been good at the line, cashing in 76.2 percent of their chances. Cleveland’s shooting was atrocious in the opener of the conference finals as they were limited to 36 percent from the field, including a miserable four of 26 showing from three point range. The Cavaliers did hit 17 of 20 free throws in the contest. Kevin Love led Cleveland with 17 points in the loss. LeBron James had 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists though he shot just five of 16 from the floor. Rodney Hood added 12 points while Jordan Clarkson had 11 off the bench. Cleveland needs more from George Hill, Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith if they hope to have success in the series.
Boston Celtics Look to Maintain Perfect Home Record in Postseason
Boston has gotten progressively stronger in the postseason: after being stretched to the limit by the Bucks, they rolled past Philadelphia in five games, winning three close contests in the series. The Celtics carried that momentum into the opener of this series as they buried Cleveland early and never let them back in the contest. Boston took control early and never let the Cavaliers make a serious run the rest of the way as they were dominant from start to finish. The Celtics were up 18 after the first quarter and by 26 at the half: after seeing the lead trimmed to 14 after three quarters, they piled on late to win going away.
The Celtics have had their offensive struggles in the postseason, shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc entering the conference finals: they average 10.9 three pointers per game. Boston has been solid at the charity stripe as they sink 76.2 percent of their chances. In Game 1, the Celtics shot a sizzling 51.2 percent from the floor and knocked down 11 of 30 three point attempts in the contest. Boston converted 11 of 13 free throws while controlling the glass by a 48-40 margin. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 23 points plus eight rebounds in the win while logging only 28 minutes of action. Marcus Morris, given the start mainly to be the first line of defense on James, provided a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds, Al Horford added 20 and Jayson Tatum continued his strong postseason with 16 points plus six boards. Coach Brad Stevens would like to see more production from Marcus Smart (four of 12, nine points) and Terry Rozier (four of 10, eight points) going forward to help out offensively.
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- Celtics are 11-1 ATS in their last 12 home games vs. a team with a winning road record
- Celtics are 13-3 ATS in their last 16 home games
- Celtics are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 Tuesday games
Cleveland was completely walloped in the opening game of the series and now face a 1-0 series deficit for the second time in three rounds of the playoffs. The Cavaliers bounced back to take Game 2 against Indiana but that game came at home: this one is on the road. Boston ran their home record to 8-0 as they rolled to the win in the opening game of the series. More importantly, the Celtics showed that they aren’t going to be intimidated by King James. Boston is playing at home and they have momentum after taking the opening contest: look for them to continue to surprise and make it a 2-0 series advantage with a closer win here.
Pick: Boston Celtics -1
Cleveland has to regroup and in a hurry: so many things went wrong in Game 1 that they were fortunate the loss wasn’t by a greater margin. The Cavaliers faced the biggest halftime deficit of James’s NBA career as they were in a 61-35 hole at the half. James turned the ball over seven times while Korver, who was shooting 46 percent from three point range in the playoffs coming in, was one of five from beyond the arc and two of six overall. Boston isn’t going to be pushed around and they aren’t going to be intimidated, which they made crystal clear in Game 1. Can Stevens push the right buttons in Game 2 to keep the momentum going for the Celtics?
The teams have gone under the total in nine of the last 12 meetings in Boston. While the Celtics aren’t adverse to playing at a faster tempo, as they did against Philadelphia, they’re more comfortable in games like we saw Sunday. Boston will make Cleveland grind, take tough shots and earn everything they get on the offensive end. The Celtics were one of the top teams in the league in scoring defense in the regular season: look for them to revert to that form here and keep this one under the total.