It took more than a week, but the Cleveland Cavaliers finally have an opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals. They will face the Celtics in Boston in Game 1 on Wednesday.
And virtually no one is giving the higher seed a chance.
“It’s a strange one because the Celtics do have home-court advantage and I guess they were a better team for a good portion of the regular season,” CBS NBA writer James Herbert told Paul Nanos, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “But nobody is going to see them as anything close to the favorites going into this series. As good as Boston has been for the balance of the year – and as versatile and as balanced as they are – I’m just not sure how much of that matters in this particular matchup. The Cavs’ offense has been incredible throughout the postseason. They actually turned up their defense as well, especially in that Raptors series.
“So to me, the question is can the Celtics just win a game or two?” Herbert continued. “To me, that would be the mark of an excellent season, an excellent finish for Boston. I know that’s not what they’re talking about in that locker room. That’s not what they’re talking about in the coaches’ meeting. But from a bigger-picture perspective, this Cavs team is a juggernaut. They’ve been amazing in the playoffs, and I don’t see any great option in terms of stopping LeBron on that Celtics roster.”
The Celtics advanced to the conference finals after beating Washington, 115-105, in Game 7 of the conference semis Monday. Isaiah Thomas had another stellar game – 29 points and 12 assists – but reserve center Kelly Olynyk put Boston over the top. He scored 26 points off the bench, hit two threes, and shot 8-of-8 from inside the arc.
“I wish I could say that I predicted that,” Herbert said. “I did not see this performance coming. Everything that he put up there just went right in. He was incredible.”
The Wizards had four starters score 18+ points, including Bradley Beal, who netted a game-high 38. But Boston won the bench battle, outscoring Washington’s reserves 48-5.
“Washington had nobody on their bench that is even capable of really having a game like (Olynyk did),” Herbert said. “That’s been an issue for them the entire season, the entire playoffs, and I think that really mattered in terms of how worn down their main guys were at the end of the series and how much they asked them to do in a Game 7. I think the fact that Boston had many contributors, including Olynyk, was really the difference in this series.”