Eastern Conference Finals – Game 3 (Cavaliers lead 2-0)
Boston at Cleveland (TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET)
The Eastern Conference Finals are nearly done, as evidenced by a pair of Cleveland routs of Boston at TD Garden. The Cavaliers are two victories away from their third straight NBA Finals appearance as Cleveland heads back home trying to close out the overmatched Celtics.
Not having home-court advantage didn’t matter one iota for Tyronn Lue’s squad, who knocked off Boston in the series opener, 117-104 after building a 21-point halftime lead. The Cavaliers didn’t mess around in Game 2 by jumping out to a 72-31 halftime advantage in a 130-86 rout to easily cash as five-point road favorites.
Cleveland shot a scorching 56% from the field, while knocking down 19 three-pointers in Game 2. Amazingly, the Cavaliers had only four players scoring in double-figures, led by LeBron James’ 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the floor. Kyrie Irving shot a shade under 80% from the field (8-of-11), while posting a 23-point effort. The Cavs broke things open by outscoring the Celtics in the second quarter, 40-13 to improve to 10-0 in the postseason.
Now, the ugly part of the Game 2 beatdown in Beantown. Celtics’ star Isaiah Thomas was limited to two points on 0-for-6 shooting in 17 minutes before exiting with a right hip injury. Thomas will be sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs as the Celtics lost five of six games without the All-Star guard this season.
Boston dropped its sixth straight playoff game to Cleveland dating back to the 2015 first round, which also means that head coach Brad Stevens has yet to defeat to the Cavaliers in a postseason game.
The Cavaliers have compiled a 5-1 record this season against the Celtics, while topping the 114-point mark in all five victories. Now the series heads back to Quicken Loans Arena for the next two games, which could spell the end of Boston’s season.
Cleveland beat Boston by six points in each matchup at the “Q,” but the Cavaliers held a 17-point halftime advantage in the first meeting in November, while building an 18-point edge after three quarters in the second contest before Boston picked up a push and an ATS win.
Heading into Game 3, the Cavaliers opened as 14 ½-point favorites before the announcement of Thomas’ status. Cleveland has moved up to 15 ½-point chalk at most spots, as the highest number the Cavs have laid all season is 16 ½ against the Nets on December 23 in a 119-99 win. However, the Cavs lost as 15-point favorites to a short-handed Hawks’ squad on April 7 in a 114-100 defeat.
The Celtics were listed as an underdog of nine points or more only once this season, which came in the first meeting at Cleveland on November 3. Boston covered as 10 ½-point ‘dogs in a 128-122 setback as the Celtics outscored the Cavs in the fourth quarter, 39-28 to grab the cover. The C’s won all three road games in the opening round at Chicago, but lost all three at Washington in the second round, while owning a 1-2 ATS record as a road underdog.
We’ve see the total go 1-1 in the first two games at TD Garden and the ‘over’ could easily be 2-0 if Boston could make any shots this past Friday.
The oddsmakers opened Game 3 at 214 ½ and VegasInsider.com NBA analyst Chris David feels that the Celtics will try to muck up the game on Sunday and slow the tempo down.
He explained, “Even though the Celtics have been exposed and embarrassed in the first two games of this series, I believe the coaching staff will have them ready to go Sunday – at least on the defensive side of the ball. Looking at the numbers, the Celtics have been better defensively on the road (104.5 PPG) than at home (106.4 PPG) this season and in their eight playoffs wins, they’re only allowing 99.8 PPG. This has to be stressed and if Brad Stevens wants to keep his status as a ‘solid coach’ then the game plan will strictly focus on that side of the ball and hope the offense takes care of itself.”
“Betting against LeBron and Cleveland is very risky, especially when you know the Cavs have averaged 118.6 PPG in six games versus the Celtics this season. While I don’t expect Boston to win on Sunday, it should be noted that Cleveland hasn’t looked as sharp when playing on Sundays in this year’s playoffs. They did beat Indiana and Toronto on the road but only averaged 107.5 PPG in those games. I could be reaching but if I’m going to step up to the counter in Game 3, I would lean to the ‘under’ in the Cleveland team total of 114 ½.”
The Cavaliers have not been listed as a double-digit favorite in this postseason, but won and covered in their last four opportunities in this situation in 2016. In fact, Cleveland went 3-0 SU/ATS in the conference finals against Toronto at home when laying 11 points or more with each win coming by at least 19 points.
The series price is off the board, but the Cavs are currently listed at 2/1 odds to win its second consecutive NBA title. If you believe in miracles, throw in a few bucks on the Celtics to beat the Cavs in four of the next five games, then capture four more victories in the NBA Finals as Boston sits at 1000/1 to win its 18th title in franchise history.