Now that the Eastern Conference Finals have begun, we're all asking the same question. Will Lebron make his eighth straight finals or will the young guns in Boston dethrone the King?
In the East, it's impossible to deny how Brad Stevens has emerged into arguably the best coach in the league. Although we can all agree, the East is the inferior conference; it's amazing what Stevens has accomplished without his all-stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Heyward. The man is a genius. Long story short, this series is basically going to be Brad Stevens vs. Lebron James.
We were all aware of the potential possessed by Boston's young talent. The oldest of their top three leading scorers is twenty-four, Terry Rozier. With the absence of Kyrie Irving, Rozier has emerged as a star in this league. When I'm watching these games I feel like I'm watching Kyrie Irving wearing a Terry Rozier mask. Scary Terry has a six to one assist to turnover ratio.
Jaylen Brown, in his second year, is averaging eighteen a game and shot fifty percent from three in the semi-finals against The Sixers. Oh, and let's not forget Jayson Tatum, who was still a teenager just two months ago. Tatum is the first rookie Celtic to score twenty points in five consecutive games since some small town kid from Indiana accomplished the same feat, Larry Bird.
These three, along with the help of seasoned veterans like Al Horford, and Marcus Morris have Tyrone Lue sweating on the sideline more than any other player on the court. They also have three or four players that can handle Lebron, or at least to an extent, keep him somewhat in check.
If the Cavs want to win this series, Lebron has to play like his life depends on it (which hasn't seemed to be a problem thus far). His numbers are absurd, averaging thirty-four points a contest, ten rebounds, and just under eight assists, all while shooting .539 from the floor. Regardless of who Boston throws at him, the King will get his. The difference will rely on if the role players can step up so Lebron isn't left playing five on one the whole series.
Speaking of role players, where has Kevin Love been? Thanks to his last few performances, the Cavs now have some hope in their other 'superstar' playing the way he's expected. Love was porous in the first round and we can see how much of a difference maker he is when he shows up, sweeping the top seed, Toronto after barely squeezing by the five seed, Indiana. Without Love, the team turns into a group of everyday role players surrounding the best player in the world.
Boston will inevitably score the ball. They're diverse in their scoring options and possess a roster deep enough where on any given night a multitude of players can steal the show and put up monster numbers. On the other hand, for the Cavs, every game, win or lose, we all know who the stud is that night, Lebron James… If Brad Stevens' defensive schemes can slow down Lebron and limit his second scoring options, the Cavs are in a world of trouble.
All season long Boston has been spectacular on defense, limiting offensive rebounds, lowering field goal percentages, and in particular, three-point field goal percentage, something Cleveland heavily relies on, especially when playing from behind. If guys like Love, J.R Smith, and Kyle Korver are taking a number of contested shots, Lebron is without question forced to drop at least what he's averaged in the postseason thus far, and as I mentioned, is just under thirty-five.
This series will ultimately come down to Boston's ability to keep James in check. And by 'in check', I mean limiting him to around twenty-five a night as opposed to forty… If Stevens' defense can slow down Lebron's supporting cast, limiting his assist totals and in turn forcing turnovers, he'll have to put up Michael Jordan scoring numbers on a nightly basis.
We all saw what happened in game one. Of course, it's early in the series, but if Cleveland doesn't change things tonight, they'll be down 2-0. The last time Lebron was down 2-0 he brought a championship to Cleveland. It's all up in the air right now, but tonight's game is a sure indicator of what to expect as we progress through the postseason.