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Celtics look to close out the Cavaliers in Game 6 in Cleveland

The Celtics travel to Cleveland up 3-2 in the series with a chance to move on to the NBA Finals with a win in Game 6.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Five Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Celtics once again go into Cleveland with a series lead and this time they look to close out the series if they can get a win in Game 6. The Celtics are 10-0 at home but, in spite of being one of the best road teams in the regular season, they are just 1-6 on the road in these playoffs. That one win was game 3 of the second round when they beat the 76ers in Philadelphia to go up 3-0.

LeBron James has been in 21 elimination games and has averaged 33.5 points in those 21 games. His last elimination game this season was Game 7 in the first round vs the Pacers. He scored 45 in that game to lead the Cavs past the Pacers in to the Eastern Conference Finals. In 7 closeout games with the Cavs since 2015, he is averaging 36.9 points, 12.0 rebounds and 9.1 assists. The Cavs have won 4 of those 7.

LeBron has made the Finals for the past 7 years. The last year he didn’t make the Finals was in 2010 when the Celtics knocked the Cavs out in the second round in 6 games. After that loss, he filmed “The Decision” and left the Cavaliers for the Heat. The rumors have him ready to leave the Cavaliers once again after this series. History could repeat itself.

Brad Stevens made a change to the starting lineup in Game 5 that brought positive results when he swapped Aron Baynes in for Marcus Morris. He also used just a 7 man rotation for the game. Baynes was able to match up with Thompson better than Horford and Horford was able to be more effective on Love.

I’ve included the starters from last game with Rozier, Brown, Tatum, Horford and Baynes against Hill, Smith, James, Love and Thompson. But, these games in the Eastern Conference Finals have been a chess match and it’s possible that Lue will go back to his lineup with Love at center and in that case, we may see Morris back with the starters and Baynes off the bench to match up with Thompson.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Semi Ojeleye
Abdel Nader
Guerschon Yabusele
Aron Baynes
Greg Monroe
Marcus Smart

Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Shane Larkin (shoulder) doubtful

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Cavaliers Starters

Cavs Reserves
Jose Calderon
Jordan Clarkson
Jeff Green
Rodney Hood
Larry Nance Jr
Cedi Osman
Kendrick Perkins
Kyle Korver
Okaro White
Ante Zizic

None listed

Head Coach
Tyronn Lue

Key Matchups

Marcus Morris vs LeBron James
While Morris may start out on the bench, he will certainly spend much of the game matched up against LeBron. The Celtics have tried Horford, Smart, Rozier, Brown and others to slow him but the best bet still remains Marcus Morris. Smart has also been effective on LeBron as well. Whoever is matched up will him needs to make him work for every basket and then turn around and work on defense. The best bet to get a win is to be sure that LeBron is tired out by the second half.

Aron Baynes vs Tristan Thompson
Baynes was very effective on Thompson in Game 5 and if Thompson starts again, I expect Baynes to once again start against him. In 26 minutes of playing time with Baynes guarding him, Thompson took only 3 shots and was 0-3. But as I said above, Lue may return to Love at center and in that case, it will be Horford vs Love and Morris vs LeBron.

Honorable Mention
Jaylen Brown vs JR Smith
Smith was pretty much invisible in Games 1, 2 and 5 but he came out aggressively and hit some big shots in Games 3 and 4. Jaylen struggled in the previous two games in Cleveland on both ends and allowed Smith to get comfortable. Jaylen has to win his matchup for the Celtics to win this game.

Celtics Bench vs Cavaliers Bench
So far, the reserves for each team has performed well at home and poorly on the road. Brad limited his rotation to just 7 players with Morris and Smart the only players off the bench given any meaningful playing time. In Game 5, Smart and Morris scored 13 points each while the Cavs got 33 points from their bench. Whether Brad sticks with 2 off the bench or more, every one of them must be effective and contribute.

Keys to the Game
Defense As always, defense is the key to every single game. The Celtics won Games 1, 2 and 5 with their swarming lock down defense, holding the Cavs to 83, 94, and 83 points. They lost Games 3 and 4 because they were not engaged on the defensive end and allowed the Cavs to get to the hoop at will and also get open looks from outside. The Celtics MUST communicate and they have to play tough lock down defense both in the paint and on the perimeter if they want to win this game. Defense is the key!!!!!

Rebound - Rebounding is second to defense in importance for the Celtics to get a win. Much of rebounding is effort and so the Celtics have to work hard to beat the Cavs to rebounds. The Celtics out-rebounded the Cavs in their 3 wins, but were out-rebounded in their two losses. When the Celtics put out the extra effort needed to win the rebounding battle that usually translates to the rest of the game. They will need to work harder on the boards in this game if they want to win it.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics were the more aggressive team in their 3 wins but allowed the Cavs to out work them in their two losses. They must beat the Cavs to loose balls and the 50/50 balls and they have to be aggressive on the boards and on defense and getting to the basket. he Celtics have to get back to playing harder and being the more aggressive team. They can’t allow the Cavs to out “goon” them.

Control LeBron’s Supporting Cast - It’s almost impossible to stop a player like LeBron who gets the benefit of most of the calls and can drive and dip his shoulder into any defenders as he goes to the basket. In the 3 home games, the Celtics were able to stop players other than LeBron from getting open looks and from being effective. On the road, LeBron’s supporting cast stepped up and hit shots and played much better while the Celtics played much worse. That can’t happen again if the Celtics want to win this game.

Move the Ball - The Celtics get into trouble when they take quick shots and don’t move the ball enough to get the defense out of position. Their assists are usually down in their losses and up in their wins. The Celtics have to move the ball and find the open man. Hero ball doesn’t win games.

Start Strong and Don’t Let Up - Most of the games in this series have been won or lost in the first quarter. The Celtics have to come out right from the start and play hard and be focused and not allow the Cavs to get comfortable. They have to start strong defensively and be patient with their offense and not rush their shots in the beginning. They also can’t afford to let up. They have to stay focused and play hard from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

Age- Age will be a factor for both teams. For the Celtics, their youth may be a problem as they lack experience in this type of pressure game. For the Cavs, their older players can’t afford to let the younger Celtics run them on every possession as they did in Game 5. The Celtics have to depend on their youth to wear down the older legs of the Cavs while the Cavs have to depend on their experience to overcome the younger Celtics. The Cavs, especially LeBron, were noticeably tired by the end of Game 5 and the Celtics need to use their youth to their advantage to wear them out in this game as well.

Close Out Game on the Road - The Celtics are now 1-6 on the road in the playoffs. They were the third best road team in the regular season and so it’s odd that they have struggled so much in the playoffs. Close out games are the toughest to win on the road and the Celtics need to block out the distractions of playing on the road and the hostile crowd and focus on playing Celtics basketball.

Officiating - The officiating is always an x-factor. In some games so far the officiating was very good and they let both teams play and let some contact go both ways but didn’t let it get out of hand. In some others the refs were not good and called it more one sided, allowing one team to get away with more than the other. We once again dodge the Tony Brothers bullet. However, that means that we may get him if there is a Game 7, which means that this is a MUST WIN!!!

Official Report
Lead ref Mike Callahan can be good or he can be bad. He usually lets the teams play and isn’t a tyrant with the whistle but still makes some head scratching calls from time to time. His home W/L record is 39-30. He averages 38.9 fouls per game and 50.8% of his calls are against the road team. The Celtics are 9-1 in their last 10 games with Callahan as a referee while the Cavs are 8-2 in their last 10. He called Games 1 and 6 vs the Bucks, Game 2 vs the Sixers and Game 2 vs the Cavs. All in all, he’s one of the better refs.

John Goble called Game 7 vs the Bucks, Game 3 vs the Sixers and Game 1 vs the Cavs in these playoffs. In the past, Goble has been good in some games and terrible in others. His home W/L record this season is 40-27. He averages 40.3 fouls called per game with 49.4% of those called on the road team. Both teams are 6-4 in their last 10 games with Goble as a referee.

Derrick Stafford can be a hot head and has been quick to call technicals in the past. He has been disciplined for getting into a shouting match with former Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank. He is one of the few refs in the league who favors the road teams with a home W/L record of 33-35. He averages 39.3 fouls called per game and 50.2% of those are called on the road team. The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games with Stafford while the Cavs are 4-6 in their last 10. He called Game 7 against the Bucks and they let both teams play without calling a lot of fouls on either team. He also called Game 3 vs Philadelphia and Game 2 vs the Cavs.