It all comes down to Game 7 between the Celtics and the Cavaliers to decide the Eastern Conference Champions. The last time these two teams met in a Game 7 in Boston was in 2008 in the semi-finals. LeBron scored 45 points and Paul Pierce scored 41 points. The Celtics won that series with a 97-92 victory in that Game 7.
The Celtics are 10-0 at home in these playoffs including 3 wins over the Cavs by an average of 17 points per game. The last time the Celtics played a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals was in the 1986-87 season. This is Brad Stevens third Game 7 since taking over as Celtics head coach. Washington took them to 7 games in the second round last season and the Bucks took them to 7 games in the first round of this season. He won both of the previous Game 7’s.
The last time both the Eastern Conference Finals and the Western Conference finals went to a Game 7 was way back in 1979 when the Washington Bullets beat the San Antonio Spurs to win the East and the Seattle Supersonics beat the Phoenix Suns to win the West. The Sonics went on to win the championship 4 games to 1 over the Bullets.
In Game 6, Kevin Love and Jayson Tatum knocked heads and Love left the game. He has been ruled out for this game with concussion symptoms. Tatum has been under observation but so far is ok and is expected to play. Terry Rozier rolled his ankle in Game 6 but is not listed on the injury list and so should be ok to play.
Abdel Nader is listed as questionable with a wrist injury. Larry Nance landed on LeBron’s knee in Game 6 but he finished the game and he is probable for this game. Jeff Green is slotted to start in place of Kevin Love for the Cavaliers. I’m not sure if Brad will change his starters to counter but I think he keeps them the same.
The last time Jeff Green started a post season game at the Garden was Game 6 in the first round in 2013 when he started for the Celtics. Boston lost that game to the Knicks and were eliminated. Interesting Fact: In the last 10 years, only 2 players have played in at least 4 Game 7’s and won them all: Al Horford is 4-0 and LeBron James is 5-0.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Shane Larkin (shoulder) doubtful
Abdel Nader (wrist) questionable
Terry Rozier (ankle) probable
Jayson Tatum (head) probable
Probable Cavaliers Starters
Larry Nance Jr
Kevin Love (concussion) out
LeBron James (knee) probable
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, Tatum and others to slow him but the best bet still remains Marcus Morris. Much was made of how tired he looked at the end of Game 5, but he didn’t show any signs of being tired at the end of Game 6 when he took over the game. 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.
Terry Rozier vs George Hill
Terry Rozier struggled in Games 4 and 5 but came up big in Game 6 with 28 points. George Hill has struggled in each game in Boston so far, but he had big games in Cleveland and is coming off a 20 point night in Game 6. This is a key matchup. Rozier (and Smart and Brown) must limit the Cavs backcourt and especially keep Hill off balance and out of his rhythm. They also have to contribute on the offensive end.
Aron Baynes vs Tristan Thompson
The Celtics have to keep Thompson off the boards and from running in for tip ins and second chance baskets. Thompson is very dangerous if he is allowed to get position under the basket and if the Celtics don’t keep a body on him. His rebounding will be especially important to the Cavs with Love out and the Celtics must limit him on the boards.
Celtics Bench vs Cavaliers Bench
So far, the reserves for each team has performed well at home and poorly on the road. In the past two games, 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 6, The Cavs reserves scored 36 points to just 23 for the Celtics reserves. Whether 2 or 3 players or more come off the bench for the Celtics, they have to contribute on the offensive end and play lock down defense on their counterparts.
Keys to the Game
Defense As always, defense is the key to every single game and especially to this 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, 4 and 6 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 three losses. That isn’t a coincidence. 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. They can’t give the Cavs extra possessions by allowing them to grab more rebounds.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics were the more aggressive team in their 3 wins but allowed the Cavs to out work them in their three 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. The 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. The Celtics need to play swarming defense on them and keep them off balance the entire game. If the Celtics can limit everyone but LeBron, they have a good chance of winning.
Move the Ball Carefully - 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. They also have to be more careful with the ball and not turn it over. Cavalier runs often begin with Celtics turnovers.
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. The Celtics started strong in Game 6 but let up in the second quarter resulting in them being outscored in the second quarter 34-18. They have to stay focused and play hard from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Home Court - So far in this series, home court has been the difference with each team winning their home games. The TD Garden is definitely a home court advantage and I expect the fans there to be loud and rowdy and be the team’s 6th man to give them an edge in this game. Whether it is because the Celtics play better at home or because the Cavs play worse on the road, hopefully that trend will continue and the Celtics will get their 11th straight win on the court.
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 but that fatigue didn’t show in Game 6. The Celtics need to make it hard on the Cavs on every possession and hope they wear down by the end.
Injuries - The Cavs have been at full strength for most of the series but will be without Kevin Love in this game after he bumped heads with Jayson Tatum in Game 5. The Cavs are 11-10 this season without Love in the lineup, but that includes a 121-99 win in Boston. LeBron limped around after Nance landed on his knee and he may have a sore knee or it’s possible that he was embellishing once again to get a couple minutes of rest.
For the Celtics, they have the normal 4 players out but add to that Abdel Nader with a wrist injury. Jayson Tatum bumped heads with Love in the incident that gave Love a concussion but so far, the word is that Tatum has no signs of a concussion but will still be observed up until game time. Also, Terry Rozier rolled an ankle in Game 6 and we don’t know if that will tighten up and cause him problems in Game 7.
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 avoided Tony Brothers and that is a good thing.
Mark Davis is the lead referee in this game and in an LA Times survey in 2016, players and coaches voted him one of the worst referees in the league so he may very well be an X-factor. Here are a couple of quotes from the article about Davis:
“He’s cool as they come, but he’s so arrogant,” one player said. “He instigates things sometimes. Marc will go back at a player. He forgets that he’s talking to another man. Don’t challenge a man’s manhood. Now you are going too far.”
“Marc Davis is hands down the worst,” a player said. “He acts likes he’s your friend, but he’ll just screw you. He’ll screw you and he’ll get the biggest attitude about it.”
However, called Game 2 of the Bucks series, Game 1 of the Sixers series, and Game 1 of the ECF and he was decent in all 3. His home W/L record this season is 40-30. The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games with Davis while the Cavs are 4-6 in their last 10. He averages 38.5 fouls called per game with 49.1% of those called on the home team.
James Capers - This is Capers third game with the Celtics in these playoffs. He called game 5 vs the Sixers and let them play both ways. He also called game 3 of the ECF. In the past he has been good in some and bad in some. He doesn’t have a lot of controversy around him, however. His home W/L record this season is 51-17. He calls an average of 41.5 fouls per game with 48% of those calls on the home team.
Zach Zarba - This is Zarba’s third playoff game with the Celtics. He called Game 5 vs Philadelphia and Game 3 vs the Cavs with Capers. As with the other refs, sometimes he is good and sometimes he isn’t so good but there isn’t a lot of controversy surrounding him. His home W/L record this season is 32-37. He calls an average of 38.4 fouls per game with 47.7% called on the home team.