Finally the Eastern Conference Finals begin tonight, with the underdog Celtics hosting Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the TD Garden. Mark Deeks previews the match up.
by Mark Deeks
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers @ (1) Boston Celtics
The battle for the east starts tonight, and the two participants come in having had very different semi-finals series. Boston had to slug it out in seven games versus an inconsistent but ultimately slightly undermanned Washington Wizards team, while Cleveland coasted to a 4-0 series win over the number three seed Toronto Raptors.
Will the Cavaliers be rusty?
So quickly was the series over that the Cavaliers have not actually played in ten days. This does mean they run the risk of rust, as evidenced in their Western Conference counterparts, the Golden State Warriors, who also won their semi-finals series 4-0, had a long lay-off, then looked rusty in the first quarter of the first game of the finals and got into a 20 point hole. But it also means rest for players who badly needed it, and one in particular – LeBron James.
As he has developed in his mid to later career from tremendous talent to Greatest of All Time candidate, LeBron has learned to take on moments like this. Having finally had some rest, LeBron is a lock-in for as near as is 40 minutes per night, if not more, and a guarantee for a near if not total triple-double every night. We try to look in this space for ‘steals’ or bargain picks, which LeBron absolutely is not. But he is the closest thing to a sure-fire fantasy hit that exists. Take the W.
Celtics Perimeter Defence vs Cavs Three Point Shooters
Cleveland run a nine man rotation, using the quartet of Channing Frye, Deron Williams, Kyle Korver and Iman Shumpert off of the bench. All have their uses and their impacts, but of the four, only Korver and Frye are likely to go off for useful box score lines from a fantasy perspective. The life of a bench shooter is feast or famine – Korver scored 32 points combined over the last two games of the Raptors’ series after scoring a combined 9 in the first two; Frye had an 18 point game two bookended by nights of a mere 5 and 3. Both could therefore swing the game, or barely impact upon it. Their costs are low for this reason. The rewards might be, too. But there’s only one way to find out.
Of note, though, is the match-up they are facing here, and particularly so for Frye. The Celtics gave up the second lowest three point percentage in the league during the regular season at only 33.2%, and rather than pulling a slow-footed post opponent like Jonas Valanciunas out to the perimeter as he did in the past series, Frye will here be matched up against Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk, both of whom are much more comfortable and much more well versed at defending the perimeter on switches, hedges and close-outs. He may not get the looks he had previously.
Boston’s bench rotation has been far less consistent, save for the consistent minutes of Marcus Smart. Smart’s statistical contributions are not especially consistent; as a limited offensive player, points are more of a bonus than a plan, and his knack for turnovers due to forcing the issue can offset his defensive work. Nevertheless, it is that athleticism, tenacity and defense that gets him on the floor and keeps him there, and he will again play big minutes.
Can You Expect A Repeat From Kelly Olynk?
Kelly Olynyk is pretty much the sole bench big used by Brad Stevens, and sometimes he has fantasy value. And then sometimes he doesn’t. These were his stat lines over the course of the Wizards series.
Game 1: 18 mins, 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 2-2 3PFG
Game 2: 21 mins, 8 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 fouls, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 2-2 3PFG
Game 3: 12 mins, 1 point, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 foul, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 0-2 3PFG
Game 4: 23 mins, 14 points, 0 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 turnovers, 2 fouls, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 0-4 3PFG
Game 5: 16 mins, 8 points, 0 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 fouls, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 1-2 3PFG
Game 6: 21 mins, 4 points, 8 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 turnover, 4 fouls, 1 steal, 1 block, 0-2 3PFG
Game 7: 28 minutes, 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assosts, 1 turnover, 5 fouls, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 2-6 3PFG
Save for the minutes column, that is the opposite of consistency. Nevertheless, even if we can never know what it is, Olynyk is usually good for something. He will have little to no effect in keeping Tristan Thompson off of the glass, and the above comment about Frye’s outside shooting applies here too, but he may have some success putting the ball on the floor. He will need to.
Al Horford Needs To Take Down T.T
In front of Olynyk is Al Horford, who had an exceptional Wizards series. He shot 48-73 from the field (65.8%) and 14-23 from three point range (60.9%), while averaging 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. Horford can stretch his opposite number Tristan Thompson defensively, and is an integral part of a diverse Celtics offensive scheme in such a way that the assist numbers will always be there.
Thompson, though, could feast here. Boston are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, a fact that the Chicago Bulls exploited in their two upset wins in the first round. Bulls centre Robin Lopez went off for 4.7 offensive rebounds per game in only 27 minutes a night in that series, and yet while Lopez has been a good offensive rebounder his whole career (12.3% career offensive rebounding percentage), Thompson is a better one (13.4%).
The Celtics knew Lopez would do his thing, yet still could not stop it even with a gang rebounding approach. And the same will be true of Thompson. He could feast on the boards, grab his share of points and blocks, and perform above his averages. For fantasy purposes, then, he might not be a steal, but he could be a bargain.