Either way, the TCF crew is back for round two thoughts and predictions.
It’s relatively simple: if the Cavaliers want to beat the Celtics and move on to their third Eastern Conference Finals appearance in four years, all or most of three things will have to happen, in no particular order:
1.) Cleveland needs to contain Boston’s guards. The Cavalier starting backcourt of Mo Williams and Anthony Parker were outplayed by the Chicago guards in the first round, and they’ll have their hands full with Boston’s duo of Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. Mo and AP are going to have to raise their games on both ends of the floor in this series.
2.) Cleveland needs to go small: The Cavaliers beat Boston twice this season, both times making heavy use of a smaller lineup featuring Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson getting major minutes. Shaquille O’Neal was injured during the first win and out during the second. He’s back now, and that might not be a good thing against a Boston offense that will look to pick-and-roll the lumbering O’Neal all night. Varejao bedeviled the Celtics all season but was a non-factor against Chicago- he’ll need to be in regular-season form. And J.J. Hickson has to- has to- play.
3.) Cleveland needs to get Antawn Jamison going: Tawn is the true x-factor of this team, another guy besides LeBron who is almost unstoppable when he gets the ball in his spots. The Cavaliers need to get him involved and keep him involved, challenging Kevin Garnett, keeping him home and opening up the floor for the rest of Cleveland’s scorers. And they can’t drift carelessly away from Tawn’s match-up advantage like they did at times against the Bulls.
I’m not particularly concerned about LeBron’s elbow, at least not at this point. He doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well in Boston anyway. This series is about the supporting cast. And although Boston is playing pretty good basketball right now, the Cavaliers have more options among the men not named LeBron James than they did in 2008, when they gave the C’s their toughest test of that postseason. And Cleveland has a score to settle in this series. It won’t be particularly easy. But with a little help from those three factors, they’ll settle it.
Cavaliers in six.
Before the Cavaliers began their series with Chicago, I felt that it was imperative that they take the Bulls seriously . . . so that they'd be back in sync, playing at a high level, by the time they got around to the real competition.
That didn't happen. Regardless of how tough the Bulls played, the Cavaliers just seemed reluctant to rise to the challenge. There were some nice stretches, and LeBron James was amazing, again . . . but overall, the Cavs seemed pretty casual. The chemistry was spotty on the offensive end, and the defensive intensity wasn't there, and struggled to arrive even when games were on the line. Still, this Boston series could be the antidote. This is a physical, talented opponent that the Cavs respect, but still feel they're better than. Now, they just have to prove it in the playoffs. LeBron and the rest of the team should be keyed in on this match-up, to avenge their loss at the Celtics' hands in 2008. I've seen enough martial arts films to know that I'll always take the young dude that's hungry for revenge over the old guy who's fighting his last battle.
Cleveland in five.
As we're watching the Magic toy with the winner of the Hawks-Bucks series while the Cavs have a much tougher go of it against the Celtics, the initial reaction might be to lament the hand the Cavs were dealt.But the Cavs need this series against Boston. No matter what comes out of the mouths of LeBron, Shaq or anybody else, history says that they often don't work as hard as the other team if there is no pressing need to do so. They'll coast if given the opportunity, so they need a worthy foe that is going to make them work for every inch of territory they capture. Chicago gave them a taste of that in the last round. Boston is going to give them a lot more.This is the way the playoffs are supposed to work. Each successive round forces you to lock in even tighter on your goal and play with more of a purpose.The Celtics aren't the title-winning team of several years ago. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are starting to decline physically, with Garnett's decline hastened by a knee that might never fully recover. Paul Pierce isn't far behind.Rajon Rondo is rounding into an elite point guard, Kendrick Perkins is a better player than he was a couple of years ago, but those are really the only two key players trending upward on a roster that is a lot older and not as deep as in years previous.Of course, Garnett is at least serviceable and able to contribute something, which wasn't the case in last year's playoffs. So Boston does have that going for them.Save for the point guard matchup (look for Rondo to abuse Mo and Delonte regularly in this series) the Cavs have the advantage, or are at least even with Boston, at just about every other spot on the board. The Cavs, at the very least, match Boston's star power, they have a deeper bench, and have the versatile personnel to both bang with Boston's bigs, or tire out the Celtics' aging legs with a smaller, more athletic lineup.But even with the roster advantages, this is still going to be a meat grinder of a series. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra recently called the Celtics the most mentally tough team in the league, and he's right on. The Celtics might play like punks sometimes, but they're also a proud team that prides itself on physical play and stifling defense.It's going to be tough for Boston to win in Cleveland, and it's going to be tough for Cleveland to win in Boston. Realistically, I could see this being a series in which the home team wins every game. Fortunately, in a reversal of the 2008 conference semifinals, Games 5 and 7 will be at The Q this time around.Cavs in 7
I’ve been hoping for this series to happen.I’ve been dying for this series to happen. Pretty much since Easter when Kevin Garnett celebrated the most holy of Christian holidays with the old crotch-grabbing gesture directed toward LeBron James.I’m not a religious man whatsoever so it wasn’t the significance of the day that bothered me most. It was that Garnett again proved what an a-hole he truly is and added a healthy dose of stupidity to the mix.You should have left well enough alone KG. Should have let sleeping dogs lie. Because LeBron James is like a mafia Don when it comes to slights and transgressions. He remembers. And guys like LBJ, who already play at a level few can reach, sometimes need to create motivation in their minds when basic domination and greatness become mundane.James will use KG’s gesture to feed his fire. He’ll also use Big Baby Davis’s hack job on Shaquille O’Neal’s thumb, a hack that cost O’Neal six weeks of playing time after surgery was required to repair the damage.This one is going to be fun. This will be a series where the old champs, a proud and egotistical group, will be looking at the younger, healthier and more talented challengers and laying whatever they have left on the line. It’s going to be mean-spirited. It’s going to be physical. And it’s going to be ugly more often than it’s pleasing to the eyes.Look for each team to keep their foot on the accelerator when they get up. The Celtics surely will with the memories of that Easter day 20-point lead they had evaporating down to nothing. The Cavs will pile up the points against Boston too. Not because they’re afraid of a spirited Celtic comeback but because they hate the Celtics with a passion.I expect a few blowouts in this series. I think the Celtics, if they get down big, will lie down and rest the Big Three of Garnet, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. They need to keep those guys as fresh as possible. Rajon Rondo should expect to see 42-44 minutes per game. How well the Cavaliers defend that cat will make the difference in how many games they play this series.Cavs in six.