The runaway locomotive that is the Cleveland Cavaliers led by its motorman, LeBron James, has thus far obliterated everything in its path this postseason. They steamrolled the Indiana Pacers 4-0 in their opening round Eastern Conference match-up then flattened the Toronto Raptors in a 4-0 in the semifinal round.
In both series, the No. 2 seeded Cavs enjoyed home court advantage over their opponents, but it held little significance as they were manifestly the superior team. Accordingly, despite opening the conference finals last night (Wednesday) on the road versus the Boston Celtics, the Cavaliers were the heavy favorite to win their third consecutive series.
Boston earned the No. 1 seed by finishing the regular season with the best record in the East. Their 53-29 mark was two games better than the 51-31 Cavs. Still, the Cavaliers were empirically the best team in the conference and put forth that caveat by crushing the Celtics in Boston by 114-91 on April 5 in their last meeting of the regular season.
The Celtics’ road to the conference finals has been much more challenging than the Cavs. They were down 0-2 to the eighth seeded Chicago Bulls in the opening round of the playoffs before winning four straight. They then had to go the full seven games to eliminate the Washington Wizards Monday in Boston.
The defending NBA champion Cavs present a set of problems no other team in the East brings to the table in the person of James. At 32-years-old, James is still an athletic wonder and did what he wanted, when he wanted against the Pacers and Raptors. The Celtics will have to maximize their quality depth to offset the remarkable multifaceted skill set of James.
The Celtics guard combination of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart must be the catalysts if the Celtics are going to engineer what would be a monumental upset over the Cavs. They must also channel the energy the home fans at TD Garden will generate to manufacture points and defensive intensity that will be critical to countering the potent offensive explosions James and his running mate, All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, are prone to producing.
Although James has a way of neutralizing and silencing opposing crowds, he knows the Boston fan base will be more boisterous and electric than usual as the Celtics return to the conference finals for the first time in five years.
“I don’t think Boston fans need any more pumping up,” James said yesterday morning to the assembled media. “They’re born with ‘pump,’ if that makes any sense.” It makes a lot of sense. But no one is more figuratively swollen than James who is seeking to add to a legacy that is already legendary.