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Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Preview of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Cavaliers and Celtics

CLEVELAND--The Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will tip off Game One at 8:30 pm at TD Garden on Wednesday May 17. The Cavaliers finished the regular season as the No. 2 seed, while the Celtics had the best record and have the No. 1 seed. The first two games will be in Boston on Wednesday and Friday, before returning to Quicken Loans Arena for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Tuesday. All games are at 8:30 pm and are on TNT.

The two teams met in the first round of the playoffs in 2015 and the Cavs swept Boston in four games, but lost Kevin Love for the remainder of the playoffs as Kelly Olynk grabbed Love's arm and it dislocated his shoulder.

Added from last year's championship team are Deron Williams, Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, while missing are Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov, who were both seldom used in the playoffs. For the Celtics, their biggest addition was former Atlanta Hawk, Al Horford. Gone from a season ago, are Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner.

The two teams met four times in the regular season with Cleveland winning three of four, including on April 5 at TD Garden, 114-91.

Point Guard: Kyrie Irving (25.2 ppg., 5.8 apg. regular season; 23.8 ppg, 5.8 apg postseason) vs. Isaiah Thomas ( 25.4 ppg,  6.5 apg)

Irving averaged 25.2 points a game this season and shot .471 from the field, including .401 from three-point range. In the postseason, Irving is shooting .399 overall, and just .281 on three's. Irving can still take over a game, when needed, and the Cavs might need him in this series. Thomas, on the other hand, is the Celtics top option and he must outplay Irving for the Celtics to have a chance. Irving could easily swing this matchup in the Cavs favor.

Edge: EVEN

Shooting Guard: J.R. Smith (8.6 ppg; 6.4 ppg. in postseason) vs. Avery Bradley (15.8 ppg.)

For all practical purposes, Smith had a very poor season after holding out and signing his big contract. He then missed three months with a broken thumb. Smith averaged just 8.6 points a game and shot just .346 from distance in the regular season, He has scored less in the postseason, but he is needed now for his defense than shooting. If Smith can contain Bradley and help out with Thomas, that will go a long way, but Iman Shumpert and Deron Williams might see more time if Smith struggles on offense. Smith is averaging .441 from three-point range. 

Bradley exploded for his best game in the series with the Wizards and if he is scoring 20 points or more that gives Boston a much better arsenal.

Edge: CELTICS

Small Forward: LeBron James (26.4 ppg.,8.6 rpg., 8.7 apg. in regular season; postseason 34.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 7.1 apg, .557 field goal and .468 three-point pct.)) vs. Jae Crowder ( 13.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg.)

Crowder is a good defender, who will make James work, but he's going to try to force James to tire on the defensive end. James has had it going in the playoffs and if he continues to shoot the three-ball well, there's no reason to think he won't continue to play well. Boston needs Crowder to shoot well to alleviate pressure on Thomas. 

Edge: CAVS

Power Forward: Kevin Love (19.0 ppg., 11.1 rpg.; postseason 13.8 ppg., 9.1 rpg) vs. Amir Johnson (3.1 ppg.)

Love has not scored as much in the playoffs, but it hasn't been needed with James and Irving. He has continued to rebound well and defend with confidence. Johnson doesn't play a whole lot, so Kelly Olynk will be the scorer. He and Love have history going back to 2015 when Olynk dislocated Love's shoulder and cost him the remainder of the playoffs.

Love has had some good moments in the first two rounds and the Cavs might need him to shoot the three in this series. 

Edge: CAVS

Center: Tristan Thompson (9.2 ppg., 8.1 rpg.; postseason 7.8 ppg., 10.6 rpg.)  vs. Al Horford (16.1 ppg., 7.5 rpg., 5.8 apg.)

Thompson averaged 11.0 rebounds in the first series and played good defense and that is what they need from him against Boston. Horford was the Celtics big off-season acquisition last year and he has helped. Horford has lost to the Cavs in the last two playoff series when he was playing for the Hawks.  Horford has become more of an outside shooter than a physical presence inside. If Thompson neutralizes Horford, this matchup could swing to the Cavs favor even if Thompson doesn't score a lot.

Edge: CELTICS

Bench: Kyle Korver (10.7 ppg., .485 3-point pct.),  Deron Williams (7.5 ppg., .600 3-pt.), Channing Frye (9.1 ppg., .409 3-point shooting, .552 in playoffs), Richard Jefferson (5.7 ppg.), Iman Shumpert (4.4 ppg.) vs. Kelly Olynk ( 9.7 ppg.), Marcus Smart (8.0ppg.), Gerald Green (6.8 ppg.) and Terry Rozier (5.9 ppg.)

The Cavs will have Shumpert focus on stopping Thomas, while the the others are more floor-spacing three-point shooters that can be the difference in any given game. 

Edge: CAVS

Coaching: Ty Lue vs. Brad Stevens

Both coaches have shown they know what they're doing and using their players in the best possible ways.

Edge: EVEN

Series Prediction: The Cavs will start out on the road for the first time in the playoffs this season, but that hasn't hurt as going back to the 2016 playoffs, the Cavs have won the final game of the series six-straight times on the opponents court. If the Cavs could win the first two in Boston, they could close out the series at home. The Cavs have too much firepower for Boston and have the James factor. As talented as the Celtics and Thomas are, the Cavs have James, Irving and Love. CAVS 4-1


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