Ryan Knaus

Playoff Preview

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Eastern Conf. Finals Preview

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


The Cavaliers and Celtics are set to begin the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday, the first of back-to-back games that will let the East catch up with the West, where the Warriors already lead the Spurs 2-0. The Cavs are favored to win this series but the Vegas spreads aren't very large, as Cleveland's perfect 8-0 record this postseason has obscured some potential weaknesses. We'll talk about that and more as we preview the ECF.

 

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The Cavaliers, as mentioned, have yet to lose in the playoffs, sweeping both the Pacers and Raptors. That's given them copious amounts of rest, which could result in some rust, but it's exactly what coach Tyronn Lue wanted for LeBron James, who has been transcendent in 42.4 minutes per game. He's been busy in that time with a hefty 32.2% usage rate, the fourth-highest in the postseason behind only Kyrie Irving (33.2%), James Harden (35.3%) and Russell Westbrook (45.8%). Kevin Love comes in at 19.8%, giving the Cavs' Big 3 a combined usage rate of 85.2%. If you're targeting studs in DFS, look no further -- that level of usage from LeBron and Kyrie all but ensures that they'll hit value.

 

Isaiah Thomas isn't far behind at 31.5% and it will be interesting to see if the Cavs follow the Wizards' defensive approach, throwing extra defenders at IT and forcing other players to beat them. The Cavaliers' defense was indisputably shaky after the All-Star break this season and they didn't exactly shut down their postseason opponents, opening the door for some explosive offensive games from the Celts. Their own defensive rating of 105.5 in the playoffs is almost identical to the Cavs' 105.9, but Cleveland owns a +11.0 net rating thanks to their stellar 117.0 offensive rating, the highest of any playoff team (Golden State is close, at 115.8).

 

The Celtics ranked 27th in rebound percentage during the regular season, and they've collected just 45.7% of all available boards in the playoffs. Their ability to compete on the glass will be critical in this series, especially since Cleveland ranks 4th among playoff teams at 51.6%. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are going to get their points, but if the Celtics give up easy second-chance buckets thanks to the efforts of guys like Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, they'll be in serious trouble. Thompson, it should be noted, trails only Dewayne Dedmon among active postseason players for OREB%, at 18.1%.

 

In fact, Thompson and Love averaged a combined 7.6 offensive boards vs. the Celtics this season. Here are the Cavs' splits vs. Boston:

 

 

Games

PTS

FG%

3PT

FTM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

LeBron James

4

29.3

54.2

1.8

5

9.5

9.8

1

1.5

4.3

Kyrie Irving

4

25.5

52.8

2

4.5

3

6

1.5

0.5

2.3

Kevin Love

3

23.7

38.5

3.7

6.7

13

1

0.7

0

1.7

Tristan Thompson

3

11.7

55.6

0

1.7

12

1.3

0.3

1

0.3

JR Smith

2

7.5

40

1.5

0

2.5

1

2

1.5

0

Iman Shumpert

4

7

34.8

1

2

2

1.3

0.3

0.3

0.8

Richard Jefferson

4

7

64.3

0.5

2

2.5

0.8

0.3

0.3

0.3

Channing Frye

4

6.8

40.9

1.8

0.5

3.5

0.3

0.8

0.3

0.5

Derrick Williams

2

6.5

50

1

0.5

1.5

0

0.5

0.5

1.5

Kyle Korver

2

5

33.3

1.5

0.5

2

1

0

0

0

DeAndre Liggins

3

3.3

42.9

0.7

0.7

0

0.3

0

0

0.7

Deron Williams

2

2

15.4

0

0

2.5

3.5

0

0.5

0.5

Mike Dunleavy

2

1.5

0

0

1.5

1

0.5

0

0

0.5

James Jones

2

1

100

0

0

1

0

0

0

0.5

Larry Sanders

1

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

0

0

Jordan McRae

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

 

LeBron averaged a ridiculous 29.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals. Jae Crowder is about as well-equipped to deal with LBJ as anyone, but James clearly hasn't been bothered by the matchup. For DFS purposes, I'm all-in on LeBron. Kyrie Irving also fared well with 25.5 points on 52.8% shooting, but he's likely to see plenty of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart defensively. The Celtics tried to hide Isaiah Thomas defensively vs. the Wizards, with mixed results, and it will be interesting to see if they try a similar approach vs. the Cavs, potentially switching him onto J.R. Smith.

 

The Celtics face another challenge in guarding Kevin Love at the 3-point line. He torched them for 11 triples in three games this season, and a starting frontcourt of Al Horford and Amir Johnson would be hard-pressed to guard Love while closing off driving lanes, defending the rim and keeping Tristan Thompson off the offensive glass.

 

Here are the Celtics' splits vs. the Cavaliers this season:

 

 

Games

PTS

FG%

3PT

FTM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

Isaiah Thomas

4

29.5

49.3

1.5

10.5

3

6.5

1

0.5

3.5

Avery Bradley

4

16

43.3

1.8

1.3

5.5

0.8

1.5

0

2

Jae Crowder

3

14.3

50

2.3

2

6

2.3

1.3

0

0.3

Al Horford

3

9

47.6

0.7

1.7

6

5.7

0

1.3

2

Marcus Smart

4

9

39.4

1.5

1

1.8

4.8

0.5

0.5

0.8

Jaylen Brown

4

8.8

44.1

1

0.3

4

1

1

0.8

1.5

Kelly Olynyk

3

8

62.5

0.3

1

2.3

1.3

0.3

0.3

1

Tyler Zeller

3

6.3

61.5

0

1

3.3

2

0.3

0.7

0

Gerald Green

3

5.3

40

1.3

0

0

0.3

0.3

0.7

0

Jonas Jerebko

4

5

46.7

0.8

0.8

4.3

0.5

0.5

0.3

0

Terry Rozier

3

4.3

33.3

0.7

0.3

2.7

1

0

0

0

Amir Johnson

4

4

50

0.3

0.3

3.8

2

0.5

0.5

0.5

Jordan Mickey

2

1.5

33.3

0

0.5

1.5

0

0.5

0.5

0

James Young

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

0.5

0

0

 

One of Boston's potential strengths is their depth. The Cavs have veteran experience in Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye, Deron Williams and Kyle Korver, but the Celtics counter with youth, athleticism and defensive toughness in the form of Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. Terry Rozier has also had impressive stretches, and we're just days removed from a Kelly Olynyk takeover in Game 7 vs. the Wizards. We may even see Jonas Jerebko return to the rotation, giving Boston more size and perimeter shooting. Another one of the Celtics' strengths is selfless ball movement, and they lead all playoff teams with an impressive 70.4 assist percentage. The only team to crack 70% during the regular season was the Warriors.

 

Boston's high assist percentage and depth is a positive but it makes them tough to target in DFS -- one night Avery Bradley could be the secondary scorer with 24 points, and the next night it could be Jae Crowder. Al Horford could flirt with a triple-double despite scoring just 11 points, which is tough since DFS values rely heavily on scoring. Isaiah Thomas has been rock-solid all season but even he could struggle if the Cavs make him the focal-point of their defense. A key for Thomas will be getting to the free throw line, which is where nearly 1/3 of his points came vs. Cleveland.

 

Even if Thomas has a big series, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the heavily-favored Cavs will reign victorious in this series. Unlike plenty of NBA writers, however, I'm not expecting a sweep. Boston has defied the odds all season, and with home-court advantage on their side I'm anticipating at least five games before Cleveland advances. On the DFS side of things, setting a lineup tonight requires a leap of faith since the vast majority of leagues require picks from both Wednesday's game and Game 3 of the Warriors/Spurs series, which isn't until Saturday. Good luck, and enjoy what should be a terrific Conference Finals!



Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.
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