After a virtuosos performance from Boston in Game 5 how could have we possibly believed the momentum would carry over to Cleveland when the Celtics, quite possibly, are the worst road team to get within one game of the NBA Finals. The home/road disparity between both teams is jaw dropping. Both the Celtics and the Cavaliers aren’t powerhouses you’d expect to meet in the eastern conference final. They’re flawed teams coached by men still learning the game, while the Celtics are young and relatively inexperienced, the Cavaliers are older, but lack the explosiveness they once did to string together two straight quality games.
The George Hill vs Terry Rozier matchup I thought was Boston’s biggest advantage in the series besides coaching. Hill’s been through a lot in his career and isn’t the same fringe All-NBA defender like his days in Indianapolis. In Boston he’s an empty shell who makes Bron pine for the days of whack-job Delonte West:
(3 Games) George Hill at home (per game):
15.3 points, 2.6 assists
(3 games) Away:
5 points, 1 assist
Conversely, the home version of Hill makes LeBron wish he’s given his nutsack in either 2010 or 2014 to have such a quality player in his corner.
It’s no secret Cleveland’s defense is atrocious. Their near-fatal issues are masked when able to rain threes without mercy on their opponent. Made shots means the other team cannot get into a fast break in transition, it also has a correlation to good overall defense… at least for Cleveland. Boston averages a poor 99.6 points in the six-games played, but average 103.6 at home where the Cavaliers splits are 41.2/25.2/78 percent. To hammer the point home Boston points per game drops to 95.6 on the road, where the Cavaliers splits are an amazing 48.7/42.5/79.Since LeBron’s return to Cleveland their best defense has been their offense and that is on full display in this Jekyll and Hyde act this series.
Of course, the Cavaliers will be without Kevin Love the only player on the team averaging double-digits in scoring for the series. For all the doom and gloom of the Cavs being without who’s supposed to be their second best player, this forces the usually inflexible Ty Lue to dig deep into his bench for younglings like Larry Nance, and gives more opportunity to someone like George Hill the Cavs are a drastically different team when Hill is competent, which is why I’ve been so disappointed in Rozier’s efforts to defend him.
The Cavs don’t run a democratic offense, it’s no secret. Everything runs through LeBron and when he’s on the bench it’s generally an unorganized mess. There’s a hidden wrinkle in Cleveland’s wonky structure and that’s they’re better (for whatever reason) with Love off the floor. Currently the Cavaliers are minus-20 with Love on the floor (lowest on team) and plus-18 with Love on the bench (highest on team). The teams offensive rating bounces skyward from 98 to 109.8 in this series.
When Lue inserted Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup for Game 2 it forced Marcus Morris on T.T and Jaylen Brown on LeBron, perhaps that’ll be the matchup for Game 7 as neither Baynes or Horford have proven able to contain the bouncy career-underachiever.
We’ve all convinced ourselves that magical pixie dust will descend from the heavens and make Hill, J.R Smith and Kyle Korver the players they are at home for the final game in Boston. We know LeBron is going to be an unstoppable nightmare, while he too has experienced his worst outings in the Garden, the larger sample size of Bron’s dominance edges out two horrible games. Regardless, the lights have never shined brighter on either Tatum, Brown or Rozier a chance to take on a visibly worn down Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors team hangs in the balance. And while the Celtics have already won a Game 7 with this core of players all playing at a high-level, you can’t help but worry if the specter of LeBron will be just enough to have them quivering by the forth quarter.
If Larry Nance, George Hill and Jeff Green (of all people) get going (and it’ll be simultaneously) then it’s a long night for us Celtics fans as another season comes to a close in a heartbreaking manner. But if all LeBron is left with his himself and a bunch of goofs, like in Game 2, then perhaps we’ll see our young boys on top of the basketball world before the clock strikes twelve on this unprecedented Cinderella story.