BOSTON CELTICS v CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Prediction: 4-2 CELTICS
Can we all say FINALLY?! After the longest first round series in the playoffs this year, the Celtics blew the Hawks out of the building by 34 points earlier this evening. This was the only way the Celts could actually have any kind of retribution for the poor showing they had against the 8th seeded Hawks. If they won by less than 10 points, a lot of people would be moving to the Lakers as the favorites to win it all this year. And the way it looks right now, that may just be the case.
I can’t say that this is going to be a long drawn out series, especially since it’s going to be the Big Three of Boston against Lebron James, but stranger things have happened. I’m sure the Cavs have it in their heads that if the Hawks could push the Celtics to 7 games, they might just have a chance at beating them. And with Lebron leading the way, anything is really possible right now. In the regular season, both teams split their games, winning 2 each on their home floor.
But in the end, it’s all going to be about matchups. The Hawks probably were able to match up pretty well with the Celtics even if it was inconceivable for them to have done so in the eyes of many (myself included). As such, the series in the regular season for these two teams are all even at 2-2. So matchup-wise, the Cavs look very good against the Celtics right now, and I’m pretty sure Lebron won’t let the Cavs lose 3 or 4 straight games.
Celtics First Round:
I was telling all my friends that it would have been great if the Hawks could beat the Celtics today, and I had thought +15 was more than enough for Atlanta to cover since they should be hyped up to try and pull out the biggest upset EVER. But alas, that was all for naught. After bringing the Celtics to a series-deciding 7th game, the Hawks probably scored an all-time playoff low 65 points en route to a thrashing in the hands of the favorites. But the game was decided more on how terrible the young guns of the Hawks played, and not how well the Celtics did. The Big Three played pretty well, but nowhere close to what they are all capable of.
Cavs First Round:
A much needed lesson in respect was dealt the Wizards, courtesy of Lebron James, and directed towards DeShawn Stevenson. And that was all she wrote. As expected, Lebron totally destroyed the Arenas-less Wizards as he was unstoppable on all 6 games. All the trash-talking backfired as the series was actually much easier than the 4-2 result it ended up with.
The Cavs also finally started thinking straight and brought Wally from the bench to the starting five resulting in a broader range from the get-go and a much more complete inside-outside lineup. With Z posting, and Wally hitting his stride, life was easy for Lebron as he slashed his way through any defense the Wizards threw at him. And in the end, James really didn’t even need to say anything to the heckles of being “over-rated,” as he clearly is all he is hyped up to be. And that has been the case ever since he stepped foot in the NBA.
POINT GUARD: RAJON RONDO v DELONTE WEST
This should be a good matchup between 2 point guards who can defend very well. Both are inconsistent shooters, but Rondo is much more active and has the advantage of being able to take more hard hits. In terms of controlling the game, Rondo has the potential to impact the game more than West does. And in terms of over-all game, it should be pretty even for these two guards.
I don’t see a significant advantage by either player here, but would give the edge to the younger Rondo. I see him orchestrating the Celtic offense more than Delonte will, as the Cavs will have the ball more in Lebron’s hands more than anyone else.
SHOOTING GUARD: RAY ALLEN v WALLY SZCZERBIAK
Ray Allen plays awesome against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the 3 games he played in the regular season, he scored over 22 points in each of them and is the biggest headache the Cavs will have in this series. Given the fact that Wally is now starting and is not really known for his D, Allen should be shooting the lights out again unless the Cavs have figured this out and have planned on who to stick to Ray Ray.
Wally is FINALLY starting, as he should be. As the Cavs desperately need a shooter to start for them, and they have finally found one. Though some of his shots have bordered on luck against the Wiz, all he needs is confidence to get hot and have the Celtics scratch their heads on how to guard Lebron without leaving shooters like him and Boobie in the perimeter. I’m glad their coach has finally realized what he needed in this year’s playoffs to advance, because Lebron deserves to be on that big stage. If Wally waxes hot, the Celtics will be in bigger trouble than they foresee.
SMALL FORWARD: PAUL PIERCE v LEBRON JAMES
The Truth has played so-so in the series against the Hawks, but has taken charge every now and then quelling a few key Hawk runs that might have made a lot of difference in the series result. But again, along with Ray and KG, he has not played to his full capacity yet. He should have a pretty hard time if he goes up against Lebron as he will tire out defending LBJ. It will also be difficult for him in the offensive end as Lebron is a very under-rated defender and has closed out Pierce in the 4 games they played in the regular season. Pierce shot horribly except for one game, and even hit just 7 points in another.
Lebron James is all that he is hyped up to be… and more. There is no player more powerful going to the rim and no player feared more with the ball at the end game, more than Lebron. With the Cavs having a good mix of players supporting Lebron in the playoffs, the Cavs have a great chance of upsetting the Celtics as long as they have a good game plan in hand, and Lebron does his thing. And I have no doubt that he will raise his game even further against the best team in the league this season. He should average around 28 points a game, and nearly triple-double numbers in boards and assists, with quite a few steals and blocks to go along the way.
POWER FORWARD: KEVIN GARNETT v BEN WALLACE
KG is most likely very frustrated with what has happened in their series against the Hawks and will be looking to bring his A game against the Cavs. Though Garnett has averaged pretty bad numbers in the 3 games against their rivals, I still think he will finally bring his game up and pound the inside against the Cavs D. I see KG picking up 11 boards a game in this series but the key will be how many points he scores. They Celtics need him to score more for them to move on to the Conference Finals, and I think he will do just that.
Big Bust has played horrible in 5 of the 6 games in the First Round, and Cavs fans can only hope that he can dig up the old Big Ben and be able to be a factor in this series. Ben should be planning on how to stop KG every single game and grab as many boards as he can. He shouldn’t even try to score anymore, and should be able to be of good help if he can concentrate on his job. He should share minutes with Varejao as they should try to contain KG in this series. They seem effective in the regular season, so let’s see if that trend continues.
CENTER: KENDRICK PERKINS v ZYDRUNAS ILGAUSKAS
Perkins played very well in that last game against the Hawks, and was vital to that tough inside D that had Atlanta reeling from the start of the game. A player capable of grabbing a lot of boards and blocking a lot of shots, he is also able to score when he needs to and will be key to bringing down Big Z. If he can do a job on Z and get him in foul trouble, the Cavs season may come to and end very early. Z is the only big guy the Cavs have who can score. Anyone outside that is a misnomer after they dealt away Drew Gooden. So the bulk of their offense will be from Lebron, then Z, then its a toss-up between Wally, Boobie, and the gang.
Z is the man in the middle and is the KEY to the Cavs success in this series. If he is able to make his mid-range shots and grab those important rebounds and put-backs, the Cavs may stand a good chance. The problem is, the Celtics have a lot of big bodies to pound Z with, and it will be good to see how he reacts to this and if the refs allow Ilgauskas to be pounded inside. Ilgauskas has played awesome in all 4 games against the Celtics this season, creating a lot of damage off the boards and scoring over 15 a game. I hope this trend continues as this series will be a treat to watch if it does.
BENCH: Leon Powe/Sam Cassell v Daniel Gibson/Anderson Varejao/Devin Brown
Leon Powe was the biggest asset the Celtics had off the bench, as every minute he played on court was an effective one. He does a lot off the boards and hustles like crazy without being reckless. He is also a solid big man off the bench, and can create huge problems for Big Z especially in terms of getting him in foul trouble as he uses his body very well. Other factors for the C’s are still the oldies, Sam and Posey, as they should hit some clutch shots to bring the Celtics back in close contests. There are also other guys off the Celtic bench who can contribute at call and it will be interesting to see who Doc Rivers uses in this series.
Boobie Gibson is the key to the Cavs moving on to the next round and upsetting the Celtics. Lebron’s numbers will always be there, scoring 30 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, a game. But amidst all that, it will not be enough to eclipse the Big Three of the Celtics. If Wally and Boobie can step up and hit their stride just like that last game against the Wizards, Boston will have a very hard time dealing with them as they have no choice but to double Lebron everytime he has the ball and drives the lane.
Varejao should be a solid minute-splitter with Big Bust and Devin Brown should provide a good spark off the bench if used correctly. It all comes down to matchups, and how the Cavs play their shooters. Damon Jones might even come off the bench and show the world why he proclaims himself the best shooter in the NBA again. Who knows! Bottomline is that if the Cavs shooters get hot, this series will go the distance.