Re: 2018 Playoffs ECF: (2) Boston Celtics vs (4) Cleveland Cavaliers Game Thread
Kyrie Irving, who played superbly for the Cavaliers in last year's series and was expected to bolster up their opponents for this year's predictable rematch, will be sorely missed for both teams. The injury-ravaged Celtics managed to overachieve in this postseason so far, but now they're facing the seemingly unachievable against LeBron's Cavaliers.
Still, despite the sidelinings of their two-best players, the Celtics have improved overall within the past year as their young talent continues to ripen; contrariwise, the Cavaliers have regressed, even if it has been enough to maintain their Eastern Conference hegemony so far—and possibly extend it by the end of this series. It likely will not move the needle from getting gentleman-swept by the Cavaliers to scotching their Eastern Conference dynasty, but it should be enough to make this series more than a desiccated formality.
The Celtics obviously have an immense coaching advantage here, but it most likely will not be enough to outstretch Cleveland's superstar advantage: LeBron is encoring an all-time-great playoffs run that came at the expense of the Celtics last year, and the latter's best players of their own run this year—most of whom are still on their rookie contracts—just aren't ready to play anywhere near that level yet.
The Celtics' defense, which has been much more monolithic than it was in last year's series, easily outstrips the Cavaliers', but it's negatable enough with the latter's front-court advantage; Kevin Love is bound to flourish for yet another series, and their entire front-court is primed for another stranglehold on the glass.
The Celtics can still keep it within striking distance in the worst-case scenario if they decelerate the pace this series, and they can even get the upper-hand for much of the series in the best-case scenario as we saw the Pacers do by employing a similar strategy. It takes a good deal of luck for the more talentless team to win, and the best way to potentiate luck is by slowing down the pace; otherwise, the more possessions there are in the game, the more auspicious it is for the more talented team, the Cavaliers, will maximize their potential.
I'm expecting the Celtics to keep it tantalizingly competitive for much of this series, but LeBron will ensure that his team prevails once again.
Bottom-line prediction: Cavaliers in 6.