The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers are set to clash to decide who will represent the East in the 2018 NBA Finals. Both teams have overcome adversity and public doubt to reach the brink of basketball’s ultimate contest. We got some of our writers together to discuss this series and the journey both franchises took to get here.
This week’s participants include:
Martin Soaries – @marsoaries
Antonio Losada – @chapulana
Evan Anderson – @Jordanian21
Alfonso De Falco – @FonzyDeFalco
Justin Kirkland – @jkirk41
1. LeBron James is knocking on the door of an eighth straight finals appearance. Is this his most impressive stat? Where does it rank amongst all-time basketball stats?
Soaries: I think this could be his most impressive stat for the simple fact that it’s a major component of his legacy’s work. LeBron has been the Thanos of the Eastern Conference. For his legacy, going to the NBA Finals eight straight times would be absolutely heavy.
Losada: Consider this: there are six players with more NBA Finals appearances than LeBron James in the whole NBA history. He’s tied with other six at eight final-rounders. If that is not impressive enough, considering LeBron still has some years left, now think that of those eight appearances, seven have occurred consecutively during the past few years. It’s hard to pick this version of James as the best we’ve seen from him given his young probable peak, but at age 33 this is as impressive as it gets.
LeBron’s last three ECF’s
’15: 30.3 PPG, 11 RPG, 9.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 43% FG, 25% 3PT. 4-0 sweep vs ATL.
’16: 26 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 6.7 APG, 2 SPG, 62% FG, 33% 3PT. 4-2 over TOR.
’17: 29.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 6.8 APG, 2.2 SPG, 58% FG, 34% 3PT. 4-1 over BOS.#NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/85IDmIjfgA
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) May 12, 2018
Anderson: This has to be his most impressive stat. LeBron has taken both the Cavs and the Heat in his past seven years to the Finals. That’s already a huge accomplishment and to know that he is on the verge of making it to his eighth straight Finals appearance is ridiculous. If LeBron was pulling off seven, maybe eight, straight Finals appearances when he was much younger, it would’ve been astounding for a young guy, but the fact that he is now 33 years-old and STILL playing possibly the best ball in his career is an achievement itself.
De Falco: I definitely think so. Taking two completely different teams to seven straight NBA Finals is already impressive enough. Think about how many games that has been for LeBron James. If you played a full season (82 games) and had to play in all seven games in each playoff series (28), you’d have 110 games. Now, granted he’s missed a few games during a certain season and not every series he’s in is a seven-game series, it is still impressive nonetheless what he has done for seven going on EIGHT straight seasons.
Kirkland: Coming back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the record-breaking 2016 Golden State Warriors still takes the cake for me. Context always adds weight to a stat. LeBron left Miami and came home to Cleveland with the sole mission of delivering a championship to his hometown. It was such an important sports moment when two years after returning he delivered and the city got to celebrate its first title in 52 years. The jubilation of the city and the look on LeBron’s face is a painting that I will never forget as a basketball fan.
That being said, only members of the Boston Celtics from the Fred Flintstone era have been to more consecutive titles than LeBron at this point and he has an outside chance of surpassing Bill Russel’s obscene 10 in a row if the stars align. This is a close number 2 for me as far as LeBron personally.
As far as overall it depends on how you weigh stats. To me, this accomplishment has to be up there because it represents going through an entire season and reaching the mountaintop each time. People will point to averaging a triple-double and all of those things but the ultimate goal should be winning and delivering a championship. To give your team a chance to do that for the better part of a decade? Not sure you can do much better than that.
2. The Celtics win the series if…
Soaries: They’re fearlessly able to outweigh matchups outside of LeBron in spurts. The Celtics have skilled players at each position with the ability to win a matchup with their Cavs counterpart.
The Celtics win the series if — LeBron doesn’t go MJ, Rozier-Brown-Tatum can win the collective perimeter battles, and Morris/Baynes/Horford wear down and outplay Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.
Losada: Brad Stevens proves once again he’s a master of game calls and presses the corrects buttons on and on and on during the full length of the semifinals. Even though LeBron is Cleveland’s key to success, it will all come down to how Boston can close on their secondary weapons and limit his production. No matter what you do, James will drop the hammer each and every game, but if the likes of Love, JR or Korver can’t produce at a minimum level, the series will be over soon for the Cavs.
Anderson: The young fellas continue to listen to the playcalling of their intelligent coach, Brad Stevens. The last series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Stevens couldn’t have drawn up a better game-winning play than he did for Al Horford in Game 3. With Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier completely facilitating on both ends of the ball, Stevens knows his players are coachable and they know what the main objective is with the Cleveland Cavalier. To stop LeBron James. If they can make the rest of the Cavs with Kyle Korver and Kevin Love play at a low production level, and make LeBron struggle, it’ll be hard to go against this Celtics team.
De Falco: Scary Terry continues his play from the first two series. With Irving out, Rozier has stepped up nicely for the Boston Celtics. Other guys like Jayson Tatum and Al Horford need to bring their A-game also, but Rozier looks to be a focus here.
Kirkland: If LeBron’s supporting cast goes back into the dirt. The Cavs through the first two rounds did their best Jekyll and Hyde impersonations. In round 1 no one besides LeBron averaged over 11.5 points per game. Round 2 came around and all of the sudden everyone was on board! They have to be on board to beat this cheeky Celtics team. Kevin Love cannot take a night off or Al Horford will eat his food. The Celtics are young but a lot of the Cavs important pieces have not been on this stage before. Boston has confidence and momentum which gives them the feel of a college team in the NCAA tournament that’s just red hot and playing together. We did not see much fatigue in round 2 but LeBron is human and can run out of gas….right?
3. Does this series play a part in whether LeBron stays or leaves?
Soaries: If the Celtics were to somehow sweep the Cavaliers, then yeah maybe. This season has been hectic enough for the Cavs that they should be pretty grateful to be in this position. It’s been all about LeBron getting and keeping them here. Not making his eighth straight Finals shouldn’t be an urgent dealbreaker, but it’s not always about if you lose but how you lose.
Losada: I don’t think so. The Second Decision will come down to LeBron’s most personal reasons, and don’t think Cleveland cruising or crumbling against this Celtics team will have a lot to do with where he plays next season. The future is not going to be much different for the Cavs no matter what happens during the next few days, and James already knows where the potential of his teammates is at this point.
Lakers fans trolled Philly while trying to get LeBron 😂
(Via @NBAReddit) pic.twitter.com/kA2VyszlNw
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) March 7, 2018
Anderson: I strongly believe so, but like Soaries said, it’s not always about IF you lose but HOW you lose. LeBron want’s championships just like any other player in the NBA should and wherever he feel’s the best playing, he will play there. With a stacked, young Celtics team that could be in the way of his eighth straight Finals appearance, this series definitely has a part in whether he stays or not. The worst scenario for Cleveland is getting swept this series, which I see is the biggest factor in determining whether LeBron stays or leaves.
De Falco: It might, maybe if it is a four-game sweep by Boston and they blow out Cleveland by 20 every game. I think we all agree that this is one of LeBron’s worst supporting cast to date, but they are still on pace to make an eighth straight finals appearance. If anything, this will be a small percentage of what he chooses to do this summer.
Kirkland: For sure. The climate is changing in the East and LeBron knows that. Truth be told, if Kyrie and Gordon Hayward were healthy this Cavaliers team would be healthy underdogs and would likely be headed home in 4-5 games. Boston simply has too many bodies to throw out onto the court with the addition of their two best players they would almost have a Golden State feel to them in terms of depth. If the Cavs were to lose handily to the Celtics with Kyrie and Hayward both wearing ties on the bench it is time for LeBron to vacate if he wants to keep collecting trophies. The time is now for this organization if they hope to hold on to greatness.
4. Can either of these teams make the NBA Finals competitive?
Soaries: Both of these teams would and can, depending on the matchup. I think the Celtics are more suited to face the Rockets than the Warriors, and LeBron has the best chance of countering the likes of the Warriors.
Losada: While it is reasonable to think that both the Celtics (with their team-oriented schema) and the Cavs (with, well, the quasi-GOAT NBA player) can potentially move the needle a bit toward the East, the West will reign champ once again. Houston and Golden State will prove once again that their conference is the strongest and finish any of the Eastern finalists in a series that may not go further than five games.
Going by efficiency, Warriors-Rockets is the best offensive matchup in modern NBA history.
Since team turnovers became official in 1973-74, this is the 1st NBA playoff series between teams that both averaged at least 112 points per 100 possessions that regular season. pic.twitter.com/Nh15XlbO36
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 9, 2018
Anderson: Yes, absolutely. All four teams are very competitive in their own ways, which makes this year’s Conference Finals exciting for both the East and West. Houston must prove they can knock off the reigning NBA Champions before advancing to the Finals and they have the capability of doing so with the potential MVP, James Harden, and All-Star point guard, Chris Paul. The Eastern Conference Finals can’t get any more competitive. With the Cavaliers looking to make it back into the Finals from last year and the Celtics looking to make it after losing in 2009-10 to the Lakers, this NBA Finals can go either way.
De Falco: 100% yes. The Celtics have one of the best young cores in the league and not having Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving makes this a Cinderella-team vibe. Cleveland has LeBron James and having his star-power in the Finals will always make it a competitive matchup against either the Rockets or Warriors
Kirkland: No. Whoever survives the matchup between the Warriors and Rockets will polish off the Eastern Conference champ in 5 games max. Both teams are historical teams offensively and have multiple future Hall of Famers stepping on to the court every night. The only Hall of Famer still playing in the east is LeBron James. Star power matters in the playoffs. The West has an ample supply.
5. The Celtics lost their two best players and are still in the Conference Finals. Brad Stevens did not receive a single vote for Coach of the Year. Are we still not taking them seriously enough?
Soaries: To not be taking the Celtics seriously enough at this point is to be a fool.
Losada: I can’t recall a coach been talked more about than Stevens, so I’d say we’re taking him more than seriously enough. But this reminds me of Curry being the first unanimous MVP because some fool didn’t vote for LeBron a few seasons earlier. Stevens has taken a first-line sit into the current coaching leaderboards–if that was even a thing–and he’s here to stay, whether his pals like it or not.
Anderson: With a coach like Brad Stevens leading this Celtics team to the Eastern Conference Finals, you can’t do anything BUT take them seriously. The way he has managed this team and led them to a successful overall season thus far can prove how serious they can get and it’ll only go up from here if they continue to win.
De Falco: Everyone on Twitter, let it be known that it was crazy that Stevens did not win (or receive a single vote) the Coach of the Year award. Losing your two best players and still playing in the Conference Finals is still a very impressive accomplishment. With that being said, everyone has been and will be taking them seriously in this Conference Finals matchup.
This answer goes to show how much belief the #Celtics have in Brad Stevens as a team. Not all squads buy in like this. #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/UMPxVlQBDZ
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) May 22, 2017
Kirkland: There is not enough transparency on voting for yearly awards. Social media exploded after seeing that Stevens did not receive a single for CoY after their well documented season of overcoming obstacles. I wish I had more but I really don’t understand the process here. We need to look at overhauling the voting criteria at this point.