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Eastern Conference Finals open as the Boston Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers

The Celtics open the Eastern Conference Finals at home as they host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for Game 1.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Cavaliers (8-0, 0-0) at Boston Celtics (8-5, 0-0)
Wednesday, May, 17, 2017
8:30 PM ET
Eastern Conference Finals Game #1
Playoff Game #14, Home Game #8
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, WTAM 1100
TD Garden

Referees: Mike Callahan, John Goble, Sean Wright

The Celtics begin the Eastern Conference Finals at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics have nothing more to prove in these playoffs and so the pressure is all on the Cavs. There is pretty much no one who expects the Celtics to win against the Cavaliers, who have so far bulldozed all competition in the first two rounds. The Celtics can come into this series loose and just give it their best without a lot of pressure on them.

The Celtics best chance at getting a win in this series may be in Game 1. The Cavs may come out a bit rusty from sitting for 10 days after their sweep of the Raptors. The Celtics have momentum after their big Game 7 win against the Wizards. And the Celtics are at home where the Garden should be rocking. However, the crowd won't be able to intimidate the Cavs' veterans as much as they did the Wizards' younger players.

The Cavs are in the Eastern Conference Finals for the 3rd straight year. This is the 7th playoff series between the Celtics and Cavs and the 2nd time they have met in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the last one being in 1976. The Cavs are the only team in NBA History to start the playoffs 8-0 in two consecutive years.

The Cavs won the series in the regular season 3-1, winning both games in Cleveland and picking up one win at the Garden. The Cavs won the first two games by 6 points each in Cleveland. The Celtics won the 3rd game by 4 points in Boston and lost the series final game by 23 points at the TD Garden.

The Celtics report no injuries, although Brad Stevens hinted that Isaiah has been playing through pain from some unknown injury, possibly his mouth from the hit he took in Game 1 against the Wizards. Avery Bradley has also been playing through a hip pointer in both hips. For the Cavaliers, Edy Tavares is out with a hand injury. He was a last minute signing to bolster the bench and so his absence won't affect their rotations very much.

Probable Starters

PG: Isaiah Thomas ........................................ SG: Avery Bradley

C: Al Horford

SF: Jae Crowder ............................................ PF: Amir Johnson

Celtics Reserves
Demetrius Jackson
Jordan Mickey
Terry Rozier
James Young
Tyler Zeller
Marcus Smart
Kelly Olynyk
Jonas Jerebko
Jaylen Brown
Gerald Green

None Reported

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving ................ SG: JR Smith

C: Tristan Thompson

SF: LeBron James................. PF: Kevin Love

Cavs Reserves
Kay Felder
Channing Frye
Richard Jefferson
Dahntay Jones
James Jones
Kyle Korver
Iman Shumpert
Deron Williams
Derrick Williams

Edy Tavares (hand) out

Head Coach
Tyron Lue

Key Matchups
Jae Crowder vs LeBron James
James averaged 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists and shooting 54.8% from the field in the regular season. Playoff LeBron is definitely a thing because he has upped his averages to 34.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 7.1 assists for the playoffs. He is shooting 55.7% from the field in the playoffs. In 44 regular season games vs the Celtics, James has averaged 29.5 points, his highest average against any team. He scored 30 points in the first meeting between these two teams, 23 in their second meeting, 28 in the third and 36 points in the final meeting. Marcus Smart or Jaylen Brown could also see some time covering (or trying to) LeBron.

Isaiah Thomas vs Kyrie Irving
Irving averaged 25.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists and shot 47.3% in the regular season. He is averaging 23.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 5.8 assists in the playoffs, but is just shooting 39.9% from the field in the first 2 rounds. The Cavs have so many weapons it will be tough to stop them all but Irving is one of the key players to try to slow down. Avery can possibly slow him down, but that would leave Isaiah to cover JR Smith, who is deadly from the outside.

Honorable Mention
Amir Johnson vs Kevin Love
Love averaged 19.0 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in the regular season. His production is down a bit in the playoffs, averaging 13.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists and is shooting 43% from the floor. It will be important to keep Love from having a big game, especially on the boards and in the paint.

Keys to the Game
Defense Defense Defense!! Defense is key to winning every game. The Celtics must concentrate on getting stops and keeping the Cavaliers from scoring at will. The Cavs are averaging 114.5 points per game in the playoffs and they lead the playoffs with 14.4 3-pointers per game on 43.4% shooting from beyond the arc. The Celtics must play lock down defense and keep the hot shooting Cavs from scoring at will.

Rebound - The Celtics can't score if they don't have the ball. They must crash the boards as a team to prevent the Cavs from getting second chance and fast break points. They also need to rebound to give themselves extra possessions and to fuel their running game. The Cavs are averaging 41.4 rebounds to 38.3 rebounds for the Celtics in the playoffs. The Celtics must rebound as a team with every player crashing the boards.

Run, Run, Run - The Celtics need to run on every possession in order to get some easy points before the Cavs defense sets up. When the Celtics walk the ball up and slow the game down they struggle. They have to run and they have to move the ball with crisp passes. Ball movement and energy will be important for the Celtics.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to beat the Cavs to every loose ball and win the 50/50 plays. They have to be aggressive on the boards and in driving into the paint and to the basket. They have to be the team that works harder and the team that wants it more. The Cavs may have more stars, but the Celtics have to be the team that wins by playing harder.

Everyone Contribute- The Celtics need everyone to play their best and everyone has to contribute. The Cavs reserves are averaging 32.2 points per game and the Celtics reserves have to come in and score and rebound and defend very well also. Isaiah can't do everything, especially since they will probably double and triple team him on defense in this series also and so the other players have to hit their shots when they are open and they have to play their best when they get their chance.

Home Court - The Celtics will be playing at home and that has to give them a boost to have the crowd behind them. The Celtics have to take advantage of being at home and the crowd needs to be loud and give their team energy.

Rust vs Rest - The Celtics have had just one day of rest after closing out their second round series against the Wizards. The Cavs on the other hand have been sitting for 10 days after sweeping their series against the Raptors. The Cavs come into this game well rested, but they also may be a bit rusty after being off for so long. The Celtics bring the momentum with them from a big Game 7 win just 2 days ago.

Officiating - As always, the officiating is an x-factor. Every crew officiates differently and teams never know what to expect. Sometimes they let them play and other times they call a foul on every possession. Some games they call evenly and others they favor one team or the other. It's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolate... you never know what you are going to get. So far, the officiating hasn't been bad in the playoffs and hopefully that continues in this round. In most games against the Cavs, however, the Cavs seem to get the benefit of way too many calls. The Celtics must play through it and not let the officials take them out of the game if that happens.

Mike Callahan officiated Game 6 vs the Bulls and Game 5 vs the Wizards. He has been a decent ref in recent games for the Celtics. The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games with Callahan calling the game while the Cavs are 10-0 in their last 10. His home game W/L record is 40-31 this season. In the playoffs, his home win percentage is 50%.

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