Eastern Conference Finals – Game 7
Cleveland at Boston (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET)
The phrase “A playoff series hasn’t started until a road team wins” applies in the Eastern Conference Finals. For the second time in three playoff series, the Celtics are headed to a Game 7 at TD Garden as the home teams own a perfect 6-0 record between Boston and Cleveland. Needless to say that plenty is on line for Sunday’s matchup in Beantown, most notably LeBron James looking to extend his run to the NBA Finals to eight straight seasons with a win.
James and the Cavaliers faced elimination in Friday’s Game 6 at Quicken Loans Arena, but Cleveland came through by defeating Boston, 109-99 to cash as seven-point favorites and stay alive for at least one more game. The four-time league Most Valuable Player did the heavy lifting once again by scoring 46 points, pulling down 11 rebounds, and dishing out nine assists. James knocked down a pair of three-pointers in the final two minutes to pick up some breathing room from the feisty Celtics as the Cavaliers improved to 3-0 in the last three playoff games at home since 2016 when sitting one loss away from elimination.
The Cavaliers’ role players needed to step up and they did after Kevin Love exited the game five minutes in following a collision with Boston’s Jayson Tatum. Guard George Hill scored a playoff-best 20 points for Cleveland, while Jeff Green and Larry Nance, Jr. combined to put up 24 points off the bench. Besides James hitting 5-of-7 three-point attempts, the rest of the Cavaliers struggled from downtown by shooting 4-of-16.
Boston’s road record dropped to a dreadful 1-7 in the postseason following Friday’s setback, as all six games in this series have been decided by nine points or more. The good news for Boston is it shot the ball better in Game 6 at 51% from the floor, compared to 36.5% in the Game 5 victory. Young guns Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown combined to score 55 points, while Rozier connected on 6-of-10 three-point attempts. Al Horford was pretty non-existent by putting up six points on 2-of-8 shooting, while Boston struggled from the line by converting on 11-of-20 free throw attempts.
So Brad Stevens’ team transitions from the bad road Celtics to the tremendous home Celtics for Game 7. Boston has yet to lose a game at TD Garden in the postseason at 10-0, which includes a Game 7 blowout of Milwaukee in the first round. In fact, Boston has won 14 of its past 15 home games dating back to a late rally to surprise Oklahoma City on March 20. Boston’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 94 points in any of the three home wins against Cleveland in this series, while incredibly covering in all 10 home victories.
The Cavaliers will be without Love for Game 7, who is still in the concussion protocol. Love averaged 17.6 points per game in the regular season, but that number dropped to 13.9 ppg in the playoffs. Cleveland put together a 13-10 record without Love in the lineup this season, including an 8-4 mark away from Quicken Loans Arena.
Even though Sunday’s decisive matchup is being played at TD Garden, Chris David of VegasInsider.com was surprised by the opening number posted for Boston.
He explained, “I thought this game should’ve opened at a pick ‘em but the books are factoring in the status of Love. While he’s the second option for the Cavs, he’s been anything but spectacular in this series or the playoffs. For me, this is LeBron against Boston and when I see the Cavs catching points albeit small, I tend to lean to the opinion of the oddsmakers.”
“For the most part, Boston has lived up to those expectations as a favorite against LeBron. Since James returned to Cleveland in the 2014-15 season, the Cavaliers have been listed as road ‘dogs six times at TD Garden which includes Game 5 of this series. Cleveland is just 2-4 in those games and three of the setbacks came by double digits,” added David.
While David wasn’t keen on the opening number on Boston, he believes the total for Game 7 is correct and he expects another low-scoring affair.
“This number has already dropped off the opener (201 ½ to 200) and I would expect the total to close in the nineties by tip-off on Sunday. The ‘under’ is 5-1 in this series and the low side was never in doubt in four of those results. Outside of two ridiculous scoring efforts (128, 113) in the conference semis against Toronto, the Cavaliers are averaging 90.1 PPG on the road in the playoffs,” he said.
“Even though both Boston and Cleveland saw their first Game 7 matchups in this year’s postseason go ‘over’ against Milwaukee and Indiana respectively, these decisive matchups often become tight games. Possessions will certainly be at a premium on Sunday and barring loose whistles by the officials, I don’t see the winner scoring triple digits in this contest. Along with leaning to the ‘under’ in the game, I would press the low side in each half and lean to the team totals low for both clubs.”