Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

05/11/2018 at 02:05pm

Analysis provided by Synergy Sports Technology

Boston Celtics Offense vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Defense

Boston Celtics: PlayType Analysis

Boston had a decent year offensively considering they lost Gordon Hayward on opening night and Kyrie Irving missed 22 regular season games. Missing their two most dynamic offensive weapons, Boston faced plenty of questions heading into the playoffs, but have held true to form scoring a slightly improved 0.980 points per possession during the postseason. In the absence of Irving, the Celtics have leaned on the steady play of Al Horford and benefited from some strong stretches from their explosive trio of young perimeter players Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum.

Irving had a polarizing effect on the Celtics offense propelling them into the top-10 in Pick & Roll and Isolation scoring efficiency. Without him, the Celtics look to create shots by committee, finding some success when their inexperienced core plays up to their potential while still having a few very distinct strengths offensively.

Boston has been one of the NBA’s most efficient Spot Up scoring teams all season averaging 1.058 points per Spot Up possession [5th]. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have shown marked improvement from the numbers they posted a year ago in the NCAA and NBA respectively. Terry Rozier, Al Horford, and Marcus Morris have all scored at a strong rate off the catch as well. Boston has made opposing defenses pay for late closeouts and have created shots at a nice rate this postseason taking advantage of the athleticism of their perimeter players and playing inside out through Al Horford. The Celtics may not be the most consistent scoring team in Isolation and Pick & Roll situations and have struggled to score in both areas this postseason, but they do move the ball effectively out of both situations on their best nights.

Rozier is a player to watch as he played some of his best basketball of the season in Boston’s season split with Cleveland, whose defense struggled all season before showing signs of life in recent weeks. Averaging 1.163 points per possession, Rozier’s explosiveness gave the Cavaliers’ guards some issues. Boston’s last game against the Cavaliers was Cleveland’s first with their new-look roster. After allowing a poor 1.045 points per Spot Up possession (ranked 27th in the regular season), Cleveland’s defense has allowed just 0.967 points per Spot Up possession this postseason as well as a terrific 0.781 points per Isolation possession by doing a far better job closing out shooters and containing opposing guards than they have all season.

Averaging 1.083 points per after timeout possession in the fourth quarter of games this season, Brad Stevens has put the Celtics in position to succeed in the clutch all year. He has also dialed up some of this postseason’s most timely plays, a trend worth monitoring as they face off with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston Celtics: Spotlight Players

Horford may not be having the most efficient season scoring the ball, but he surged down the stretch and stood out in a few key areas. Scoring 1.194 points per Spot Up possession [91st percentile], Horford provides valuable spacing and efficient set shooting while also doubling as one of the best passing big men in the NBA with a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio within Boston’s half court offense. If Horford can continue to take some pressure off Boston’s guards with his playmaking in the post, he could go a long way towards helping the Celtics keep pace with the Cavaliers in the scoring column.

Tatum, like Horford, has been one of the NBA’s most efficient Spot Up threats this season. Scoring 1.133 points per Spot Up possession [83rd percentile], the rookie has done a little bit of everything else for the Celtics offensively and has been efficient in doing so putting up above average numbers scoring in transition, out of pick & rolls, and via off screen actions. Though he has done his best work this season as a set shooter, Tatum has had some impressive moments creating his own shot one-on-one. He will provide a significant boost if he can put together a few productive stretches scoring the ball against the Cavaliers.

Cleveland Cavaliers Offense vs. Boston Celtics Defense

Cleveland Cavaliers: PlayType Analysis

A lot has changed for the Cavaliers this season following the flurry of trades they made in February. With a dramatically different rotation than the one that took them to the 2017 NBA Finals, the formula for the Cavaliers remains largely unchanged on the offensive end. Cleveland once again ranks among the NBA’s more prolific one-on-one and pick & roll offenses with LeBron James carrying the load surrounded by one of the league’s most efficient groups of shooters.

The Cavaliers finished the regular season scoring 0.907 points per Pick & Roll Ball Handler possession [4th] and 1.082 points per Spot Up possession [1st] with 10.2% of their possessions coming in Isolation situations [3rd]. At age 33, LeBron James has shown no sign of slowing down while carrying the Cavaliers for long stretches. Kevin Love has been key for the Cavaliers as well ranking as the most prolific Spot Up threat on the NBA’s top Spot Up shooting team, but missed several stretches in the midst of the most efficient offensive season of his career. Love struggled in the first round of the playoffs before returning to form in Cleveland’s sweep of Toronto. Despite the considerable roster turnover they’ve gone through in the last year, the Cavaliers remain one of the NBA’s most explosive offensive teams.

Cleveland has looked outstanding on the offensive end for stretches this postseason, thanks to the performance of LeBron James. He has raised his level of play to create, assist, or score an otherworldly 70 points per-48 minutes while generating almost half of his points in the half court in one-on-one situations and still rank as the league’s most efficient volume scorer. The Celtics managed to hold James to 24 points per game and 1.030 points per possession during their regular season matchups with the Cavaliers.

Cleveland has poured it on thick on their best nights offensively shooting 40% from beyond the arc within their half court offense in wins compared to just 31% in losses. If Boston’s defense has one especially notable strength among a myriad of positive attributes, it is their ability to challenge shooters. The Celtics finished the regular season as the NBA’s top defense due in no small part to the stellar 0.957 points per Spot Up possession [1st] they held opposing offenses to. Boston held the Cavaliers to just 0.77 points per Spot Up possession over only 15.7 Spot Up possessions per game during the regular season, not just limiting the Cavaliers efficiency, but preventing them from generating clean looks entirely.

With no shortage of athleticism and depth, Boston has plenty of defensive options to throw at James and potentially limit the number of quality looks he creates for his teammates on the perimeter. His unprecedented play in recent weeks sets the stage for one of the playoffs most interesting matchups.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Spotlight Players

James ranks 1st in the NBA postseason scoring, assisting, or creating 70 points per-48 minutes. Among the top interior scorers this season, James is averaging 1.479 points per shot around the rim in the half court [98th percentile]. Getting 47% of his offense from Isolations and Pick & Rolls, James is shooting a combined eFG% of 54% in those situations as he remains one of the league’s most explosive scorers off the dribble. He has been very effective going one-on-one on the block this season scoring 1.051 points per Post Up possession [89th percentile] while also doing some of his best work as a passer down low surveying the defense playing with his back to the basket and threading the needle to the weakside. James has been playing some of the best basketball of his career this postseason, a scary proposition for the Celtics.

Love was one of the most efficient players during the regular season ranking 5th in the NBA in points per possession among players using over 15 possessions per game despite only appearing in 59 games due to a variety of circumstances. Love plays a unique role with 40% of his possessions coming from a balanced mix of Spot Ups and Post Ups. He has been excellent scoring the ball in both areas averaging 1.214 points per Spot Up possession [93rd percentile] and 0.970 points per Post Up possession [76th percentile]. Love’s ability to run hot from the perimeter has been one of the driving factors behind Cleveland’s best offensive performances this season, and the miserable 0.78 points per possession he scored in the first round was one of the reasons Indiana pushed the Cavaliers to the brink of elimination. Love found his footing against the Raptors, but his ability to make a consistent impact against the Celtics is a major point of interest in this series.