The Eastern Conference Finals are in high gear. Let’s take a look at what we can expect going forward in the East…
1. Celtics-Cavs: It’s seems clear where this series is headed, a seventh game. Alas, the seventh game is not likely to be that climactic. The home team has won each game handily (by 15, 13, 20, 9, and 13 respectively). So, the likely outcome is Cleveland holding serve in Game 6 before getting beaten fairly easily in Boston in Game 7. The one caveat is that LeBron James has the ability to beat any team on any given night. Hell, he almost beat the great 2007-08 Celtics in a similar situation.
That being said, LBJ hasn’t had much help this series with two exceptions. Kevin Love has been active (15.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg) but has shot poorly. Kyle Korver has shot incredibly from three (11-24) but does virtually nothing else. Outside of those two, the supporting cast has done very little. It’s crazy to look back and think how the Cavs have come this far given how weak they have been at times (I thought Toronto would destroy them in the Second Round for that very reason). It’s been very impressive but the end is likely near for James and the Cavs this season (and probably for good).
By contrast, Boston has won their home games with a very deep and balanced group. Al Horford, in particular, has been a match up nightmare for Cleveland (he has .623 TS% and only six fouls on defense). This Boston team doesn’t seem great but the odds, as can be seen here, favor them. We need to accept that we are about to see, perhaps, the worst Celtic team to ever make an NBA Finals. The only Celtic team with a lower to make the Finals was the 1975-76 team (for all the great memories of John Havlicek and Dave Cowens and that crazy game against Gar Heard, Boston ultimately beat a really blah Phoenix team that season).
2. Rozier v. Kyrie: The loss of Kyrie Irving obviously hasn’t been a plus for the Celtics but Terry Rozier and has played quite well in his stead. But how big is the difference in reality? Let’s take a look at Rozier’s playoff stats versus Kyrie’s regular season:
-Irving: 32.2 mpg, 24.4 ppg, .491 FG%, .408 3FG%, 3.8 rpg, 5.1 apg, 25.0 PER, 6.2 BPM, .222 WS/48, 4.0 VORP
-Rozier: 36.5mpg, 16.5 ppg, .407 FG%, .354 3FG%, 5.5 rpg, 5.8 apg, 17.5 PER, 4.5 BPM, .154 WS/48, 1.0 VORP
Perception and stats seem to be in accord. Rozier isn’t as good as Irving but he’s been about 70% as productive as Kyrie. This seems to be part of a larger trend that starting point guards play quite well in Brad Stevens’ system. Here’s how each of Stevens’ starting point guards have done in Boston:
-2013-14: In Stevens’ first year, Boston was in full rebuild and had three starting points, Rajon Rondo, Jordan Crawford, and Jerryd Bayless. Rondo’s numbers actually declined markedly from the Doc Rivers Era, though that may have been due to a general decline in his game. Crawford played his best ball for Stevens before being traded midway through the season and going to China for several years. Bayless didn’t start much and his role was negligible.
-2014-15 through 2016-17: Rondo played most of the season of 2014-15 before being traded. Boston then brought in Isaiah Thomas, who put up career highs for the last 21 games of that season. From there, Isaiah continued to improve even more over the next two seasons. His numbers tumbled this season after being traded from Boston. Obviously, the hip injury didn’t help but, outside the Stevens System, he has struggled to fit into multiple offenses.
-2017-18: Kyrie’s 2017-18 campaign was, by far, the best of his career and it was in line with what Thomas did the previous two seasons.
In all, between Crawford, Thomas, Irving, and Rozier, there does seem to be a Stevens Effect. Point guards appear to get much more opportunity to put up numbers. Many coaches have had systems that favor point guard stats (Mike D’Antoni notably). Boston seems to be aware of this fact and may take this into account when they have to decide between paying Irving or hoping they can find a cheaper alternative in the near future.