After losing superstar Kyrie Irving to knee surgery prior to the start of the playoffs, the Boston Celtics had limited expectations. Heading into the season, the team was expected to challenge the favored Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, creating a must-watch series with Irving and LeBron James facing off one another. Now, facing off one another in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row with no Irving in the picture, this will be a much different series. This time around, the Celtics will be forced to compete with a roster filled with young talent, but no superstar. On the other side, the Cavaliers are thriving with a roster composed primarily of veterans. With that said, many question how competitive this series will actually be.
Despite lacking a superstar, the Celtics are still finding success on the offensive end, lead by rookie Jayson Tatum‘s team-leading 18.8 points per game on nearly 46% shooting. Tatum has struggled at times during the playoffs, but is coming off a series where he finished with an impressive 23.6 points per game against a 76ers team ranked fifth in defensive rating in this year’s post-season. However, this time around, Tatum will be potentially be matched up against players like Jeff Green, James, and even potentially J.R Smith who has shown flashes of strong defensive play during the team’s previous series against the Raptors. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how he performs against the Cavs during the upcoming series, especially with the stakes so high; something that can lead to struggles especially for young players like Tatum.
Players including Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford will also be monitored during the next series, as their offensive production will need to be improved if the Celtics have a chance in making a surprising upset over the Cavaliers.
Rozier has shown flashes of being one of the team’s primary scoring options, but has proven he is not the same player on the road. At home, Rozier is averaging 22 points per game on 47% shooting, while on the road he averages only 13 points per game on a staggering 34% shooting. This huge change in production will simply not cut it against the Cavaliers, who will be hungry to return to the NBA Finals for the third year in a row. In order to advance to the Finals, the Celtics will need to prove they can win on the road, as they have only won a single match-up on the road this post-season.
During this year’s playoffs, Brown has excelled at both ends of the floor, but will be asked to do a lot more this series. One of the tasks Brown will potentially be asked to perform is to slow down James, which is no easy task. Brown has the build to match-up with a player of James’ stature, and will need to play aggressive to stay with James , especially in the post. Players like Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris could be asked to guard James, but if neither option works, Brown may be put to the task of defending arguably the most dominant player in the league.
On the offensive end, Brown is becoming a reliable option. Scoring 17 points per game on 48% shooting, including 42% from beyond the arc, Brown is proving he could be an important player in this series. He does have some experience in the conference finals, but he is currently in a much different role now. After coming off the bench during last year’s conference finals, Brown is now a starter and will be counted on more than he’s used to. That is not to say he won’t have a good series, but in order for the Celtics to compete with the Cavaliers, Brown will need to be much more productive.
As the team’s leading rebounder and shot blocker this post season, Horford has stepped up. His statistics aren’t too appealing for an All-Star, but he has made his presence felt nonetheless. During the first round, Horford guarded Giannis Antetokounmpo better than anyone expected, and may be asked to defend James if it gets out of hand. James is a player who is an extremely versatile scorer, and a majority of players on the Celtics’ roster will have difficulty defending him, including Horford.
Tristian Thompson is getting playing time again, which will force Horford, along with others, to rebound much more efficiently; especially with Thompson’s strong offensive rebounding ability. The Celtics are thin in their front court as is, and getting out-rebounded by the Cavaliers will not be ideal in this upcoming series. Preventing second-chance opportunities for the Cavaliers will be vital for the Celtics’ success as giving James another chance to score will put the team at a disadvantage.
No one expected the Celtics to get where they are now, but we have to be realistic here. The Celtics’ roster lacks the depth necessary to advance past James and the Cavaliers. Yes this current Cavaliers roster is arguably James’ worst supporting cast, but they are still a force to be reckoned with. Sweeping the No.1 team in the East is no easy task. The Celtics do have home court advantage during this series, but the team dropped their first two home games during last year’s series with the Cavaliers, and you know the rest. Regardless of all these factors mentioned, this series will still be a fun one to watch.
The Celtics have mad a remarkable run this post-season with their backs against the wall, but unfortunately their run could come to an end before the NBA Finals. This is not to say the team can’t make a trip to the Finals with their current roster, but they are facing some slim odds. James has dominated the Celtics in the past, and has shown no signs of slowing down. The Celtics could make a series out of it, but the team’s championship hopes are more likely to happen next season with a healthy roster led by Irving and Gordon Hayward.