Cavs/Celtics Series Preview
Boston will win a few, but Cleveland moves on.
by Brendan Bowers / @StepienRules
Both teams hit the snooze button for stretches of this past regular season, and the both teams just finished up an exhibition style round of the Playoffs with five-game close-outs over teams that wouldn’t sniff the post-season out West. In both Boston and Cleveland, for all intents and purposes, the Playoffs start tonight…and it will be a good one. Probably better for Cleveland than Boston, but I’ll get to that later. First the match-ups…
POINT GUARD: MO WILLIAMS VS. RAJON RONDO
Mo Williams said recently of the Celtics that “we don’t like them, they don’t like us. It’s obvious.” While that might be true, what’s also not obvious is which Mo Williams will show up for this series. The one who finished with 7 points on 2-13 shooting in Game 5 against Chicago, or the guy who shot it 6-10 to finish with 19 in Game 4. Cavs fans hope for the latter, and Cleveland needs Mo to make Rondo work on the defensive end, because Rajon will apply pressure offensively when he has the ball. There’s no question to me that he is the Celtic who could have the single most important impact on this series, the question is who covers him. And I don’t see Mo to be that match-up answer. I expect the Cavaliers to attempt to combat Rondo’s speed and athleticism by running a collective group of length at him on the perimeter in the forms of Anthony Parker (Mo starts on Allen), Delonte West, and Jamario Moon. The last of which is a guy – in Moon – who I’d like to see get a long look at Rondo who’s coming in off a Heat series where he averaged 15 points, 10 dimes, and 6 rebounds per. If those three don’t work, maybe Mo gets a run at him, maybe LeBron at times, but slowing Rondo will have to be a collective effort defensively for the Cavaliers.
SHOOTING GUARD: ANTHONY PARKER VS. RAY ALLEN
Anthony Parker was averaging about 10 points a game just before he scored only 3 in Game 5 of the Bulls series, and he shot a combined 9 of 23 from three-point range (39 percent) during this past opening round. Offensively, he has to be a bit better than that, but not much better than 10 or 12 points per, on 2 or 3 for 6 from long range to be the factor he can be in this series. And Cleveland’s planning on AP to be a guy – along with Mo, Jamison, and Delonte – who can shoot it well enough from distance to open driving lanes up some for LeBron. As mentioned above, I also expect AP to guard Rondo for stretches, and while he won’t shut him down, Cleveland’s hoping his length may cause Rondo to labor at times. Because with that said, I expect Mo Williams to be the guy who’s tagged with the duty defensively of knowing where Ray Allen is at all times. And Cleveland better keep tabs. Allen averaged over 19 per against the Heat and he connected at a clip of over 52 percent from three for the series (19-36). Which means, old legs or not, Ray Allen can still shoot the thing people. Can the Cavaliers disrupt his rhythm? Is Allen strictly a one dimensional catch and shoot player at this point? Will Ray shoot it 0-4 from three like he did in Game 1, or 7-9 like he did in Game 2? Cleveland hopes those answers are yes, yes, yes, no, but we’ll see.
SMALL FORWARD: LeBRON JAMES VS. PAUL PIERCE
So what’s the truth about the elbow? See how I did that there. I heard reports yesterday that LeBron didn’t shoot any long range jumpers in shoot-around, but my question about that is, why’s that a problem? Even though LeBron went 13 of 24 from three point range during the opening round – you hear that Rick Barry – if you had to figure how you wanted to ‘defense’ LeBron James you’re gonna say make him a jump shooter. Doesn’t matter if the jumper’s been falling at a rate better than any point in his career right now, his attack of the basket is so deadly and impossible to stop you’re going to do your best to make him pull up and beat you from as far away from the basket as possible. Which is what Boston was going to do regardless – elbow or otherwise — against LeBron. So if that elbow is really necessitating ‘Bron ‘Bron to leave his jumper on the shelf, he’s just going to drive more, and do so now with the mentality of ‘it’s get to the basket or don’t score at all’. I’m sure he’s not cool with the latter there, and I think this whole thing could be a bigger problem for Boston in the end — if it’s a problem at all. And with the shooters Cleveland can scatter about the perimeter, there should be more post-season driving lanes open than LeBron’s ever seen during his time in the Association. On the flip side, if elbow-gate proves to be blown way out of proportion? Well then he’s a healthy version of the best player in the world, playing better than he ever has, and can win this series himself if necessary. All that said, Paul Pierce will be heard from in this series. We all know what he can do, just like we all know what LeBron’s capable of. These two matched wills for an epic seven-game series in 2007, as we all remember, with Pierce’s team getting the better of LeBron’s. Only now, the Cavs roster’s at least three times better than it was last time out, and Boston’s is simply three years older.
POWER FORWARD: ANTAWN JAMISON VS. KEVIN GARNETT
While Rondo’s the most critical player for Cleveland to stop, I believe this is the most critical match-up for Cleveland to win. I’ve mentioned over the last couple weeks, that if Antawn Jamison shoots over 50 percent from the field and scores over 20, the Cavaliers will not be beat. He scored 24 in Game 4 against the Bulls on 9-16 shooting, and he scored 25 in Game 5 on 8-14 – both wins. In Game 3 he shot 7-17, scored only 19, and the Cavs lost by two. He will have to be that capable, dependable, second leading scorer for the Cavaliers to advance here, and he will also have to be that ‘stretch four’ the acquired in that mid-season trade. Because in addition to scoring 20+, he will also be counted on to pull Garnett away from the basket here. If he can do that, there will be a lot of open runs towards to the hoop. If he can’t, while he’s certainly lost a step and grown extremely angry in his time as a Celtic, KG can still defend the painted area, and that could be an issue. He can also play through self inflicted bruises to the chest caused by punching himself, and he will be sure to talk a heaping amount of junk for a guy who averaged 14 points and 7 boards this season, but as unlikeable as he seems these days, you do have to still respect what Garnett can do out there. And if you’re Cleveland, you’re also going to have to remain composed, because I also expect KG to take a couple shots at that elbow of LeBron’s…on accident of course.
CENTER: SHAQUILLE O’NEAL VS. KENDRICK PERKINS
At this point in their careers, I don’t see one guy being that much better than the other here to create that much of a match-up problem on either side. Nor do I see either of these two as being guys who will command the amount of touches to make a considerable factor in this series. Both are capable, both are big bodies inside, and either guy may outscore the other from game to game by a basket or two. What could be the most important result of this match-up is who ends up getting sent to the side for long stretches with foul trouble. Because after these two, there’s not much more in the form of centers to come off either bench.
Anderson Varejao, Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and possibly JJ Hickson vs. Glenn Davis, Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace, Michael Finley and possibly Marquis Daniels. Call me crazy, but this is a no contest here. The Cavs are much more athletic, versatile, and deeper coming off the bench, and I say Cleveland wins this match-up going away.
COACHING: MIKE BROWN VS. DOC RIVERS
I’m more of the opinion that this series will have less to do with the Xs and the Os as it will with the ‘Bron ‘Bron’s and the Mo’s. Mike Brown will have to push the correct substitution buttons, but I expect him too. Just as I expect Doc to be able to draw up a winning play late out of a timeout if it comes to that. To me though, there’s too much talent on the floor here for any type of scheme to make that much of an impact.
I hesitate to use words like war and battle to describe basketball games, and while this won’t be an actual one where people die, this will be the basketball version of a war. I expect this to be a throwback type series, and can’t wait to start watching it tonight. In the end, I think Boston wins a couple, but Cleveland moves on.
CAVS IN SIX