Career assists for Flyers captain Claude Giroux

Conference clashes

Posted by Eric Fisher On May 13

Three of the four teams from last season’s conference finals have returned this season. But the Eastern Conference’s Celtics and Cavaliers have turned over a significant portion of their roster, in part through a trade between the two teams. Interestingly, neither of the top names in that trade, Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas, is active for this series.

The Eastern Conference Finals seem to be a matchup between the individual brilliance of LeBron James and the Celtics’ team effort. The Cavaliers have overcome injury and adversity by relying on James. The Celtics have overcome the loss of Irving and free agent forward Gordon Hayward with contributions from throughout their lineup.

The Western Conference Finals between the Warriors and Rockets could be a classic. Both teams can light up the scoreboard, yet both are good defensive teams.

Let’s take a look at the conference finals.

(seeding in parentheses)


(seeding in parentheses)


How Cavaliers got here: Defeated Pacers in 7 games, and then swept the Raptors.

How Celtics got here: Defeated Bucks in 7 games, and then eliminated the Sixers in 5 games.

Cavaliers: The Cavaliers have been the LeBron James show during the postseason. James is averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9 during the playoffs. The only other Cavaliers in double figures in scoring are center Kevin Love (14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds), Kyle Korver (10.5) and J.R. Smith (10). George Hill (9.8) isn’t far behind, but the Cavaliers are incredibly dependent on James. The question is whether they can continue to succeed while being so dependent on James. The Cavaliers were in the Raptors’ heads, but it’s doubtful they can do the same to the Celtics.

Celtics: The Celtics don’t have a star close to the magnitude of James, so they make up for it by having four players average between 16.9 and 18.8 points per game during the postseason. Rookie forward Jayson Tatum (18.8 points) lead the way, followed by guard Terry Rozier (18.2), veteran forward/center Al Horford (17) and swingman Jaylen Brown (16.9), who seems to have fully recovered from a hamstring injury suffered at the end of the Bucks series. Forward Marcus Morris (12.3) and guard Marcus Smart (10.6) supply scoring, defense and toughness. Morris will be one of the players assigned to containing James, but that will surely be more than a one-man job. Semi Ojeleye didn’t play much of a role during the Sixers series, but may be used to defend James, just as he was used in the first round against Bucks start Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Celtics will try to limit James, thereby forcing other Cavaliers to beat them. Center Aaron Baynes played an important role against the Sixers, defending Joel Embiid and bringing him away from the low post by drilling 3-pointers from the corners.

Analysis: When you consider that the Celtics lost forward Gordon Hayward to injury in the first game of the season and have lost Kyrie Irving to a season-ending injury, it’s remarkable what the Celtics have accomplished. They also lost Brown and Smart for part of the postseason. Tatum and Rozier have been incredible during the postseason. Slowing down James is a monumental task, but don’t discount the role of head coach Brad Stevens in designing a game plan to combat James and make other Cavaliers try to beat them. Celtics in 6



How Warriors got here: They beat the Spurs in 5 games, and then eliminated the Pelicans in 5 games.

How Rockets got here: They beat the Timberwolves in 5 games, and then eliminated the Jazz in 5 games.

Warriors: With Stephen Curry (24.5 points per game in the playoffs), left, returning from a sprained MCL during the second round, the Warriors’ core is back at full strength. With Kevin Durant (28 points) and Klay Thompson (21.2) joining Curry in the Big Three, the Warriors are difficult to defend. Center Draymond Green chips in with 13.1 points per game and averaged a triple double against the Pelicans while primarily defending Anthony Davis. For the playoffs, Green is leading the Warriors with averages of 11.5 rebounds and nine assists. Defensive specialist Andre Iguodala (7.7) and guard Shaun Livingston (7.3) also can contribute on offense.

Rockets: The top-seeded Rockets are led by James Harden, who is averaging 28.5 points and 7.4 assists during the postseason. Guard Chris Paul (21.8 points, 6.4 assists, 5.5 rebounds) is also a dangerous threat. The most unheralded Rocket is center Clint Capela, who is averaging 14.4 points and 12.2 rebounds during the playoffs, an increase in both categories from the regular season. Eric Gordon has dropped from 18 points during the regular season to 12.9 during the playoffs. The scoring averages of swimgman Trevor Ariza (8.7 points) and Ryan Anderson (3.2) have also been down during the playoffs. Forward P.J. Tucker is averaging 9 points.

Analysis: Chris Paul could be the difference in the series. Curry isn’t a stellar defensive player anyway, and he could be more limited coming off a knee injury. If Curry is healthy, however, the Warriors present multiple problem for the Rockets’ defense. The center matchup between Capela and Green could be one of the keys to the series. Another key will be how well Iguodala contains Harden. Warriors in 7

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