The playoffs in the East have turned out mostly how expected. The #1 seed Celtics needed 13 games to get the the Eastern Conference Finals and will be up against the #2 seed Cavaliers, who swept both of their first rounds.
But rather than focusing solely on the current playoffs in the East, let’s take a moment to reflect on the totality of basketball in the East for the last 7 years. View it in you mind, create a picture and keep it there. What do you see? If you see anything other than this:
or maybe this:
Then you either have too much love for Drake, or you have not been paying much attention.
I know there are other things happening in the East, but it is LeBron’s universe. Seven straight years he has led his team into the Eastern Conference Finals. In the last three of those conference finals, LeBron is 16-4, never losing more than 2 games in any series. This season in the playoffs, LeBron is averaging stratospheric numbers: 34.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.4 blocks and a hotter than the sun 46.8% from three. These are not numbers we have ever seen in the playoffs. For perspective, the best statistical playoff year Michael Jordan had was probably 90-91: 31.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 2.4 steals, 1.4 blocks, and 38.5% from three. Talk all you want about the East being weaker than the West (because it is), LeBron’s current ECF streak is beyond reproach.
Although I don’t really buy into the proverbial “switch being flipped”, the rest of the Cavaliers are doing their best to get the King his fourth ring. Between a 117 offensive rating and a 105.9 defensive rating, the Cavs are sitting at a 11.1 net rating in the playoffs. Their assist percentage is 54.1%, relatively high considering they have two of the best isolation players in the league. A quick note on iso’s: Kyrie is creating 1.09 PPP off isolation looks and has an eFG% of 54.6 in isolation situations in the playoffs, on a 27.6% isolation frequency. The Cavs are also grabbing 21% of the available offensive rebounds (credit Thompson for this, he is grabbing 5 offensive rebounds per game) and their effective field goal percentage, 57.9, is good enough for best in either conference.
The Celtics have taken the more difficult road to get to the ECF, and are definitely the underdogs here. The only game the Celtics pulled off the Cavs in the regular season was without Kevin Love on the floor and Boston only won by 4 points. During the playoffs the Celtics have a 110.8 offensive rating and a 105.5 defensive rating, putting their net rating at 5.3, less than half of the Cavs. Boston boasts first place in assist percentage at 70.1, which is about 15% higher than the players from The Land.
For the Celtics to win this series, the following stars, planets and singularities need to align. Brad Stevens has to make Tyronn Lue feel as outclassed as Lue felt in the 2001 NBA Finals, but from a coaching standpoint. Every adjustment Lue makes, Stevens has to anticipate. Every set out of bounds play for Boston, needs to end in points. Lue needs to feel the pressure to truly coach his team to victory, not ride the overly talented roster the Cavs have assembled. Avery Bradley has to be the best two way player on the court. His mercurial offensive rise during the playoffs cannot falter. He has to be aggressive on both ends and continue crashing the boards against a significantly better rebounding team. Al Horford has to continue his incredible play. In the playoffs, per 100 possessions, Horford’s offensive rating has rocketed to 140! Finally, and most importantly, Isaiah Thomas has to be the catalyst for Boston. I don’t care how he goes about amping up that team, they need to be able to feed off the energy he creates by being a 5’9” superstar in a sport where height is a focal point.
Sadly for the NBA’s most storied franchise and their fans, I don’t need a telescope to know this series is written in Cleveland’s stars, not theirs. Their season has been complete with shooting stars, black holes, and true cataclysms, but it ends in the Eastern Conference Finals. IT will light the court with offensive fireworks, Brad Stevens will continue to impress us with his coaching abilities, and the Celtics will make a couple of the game look closer than they really are. But look for Tristan Thompson to own the boards, Uncle Drew to be the best one-on-one offensive guard in the league, and LeBron to be the best player on this planet or any other.
Prediction: Cleveland in 4