Eastern Conference Finals
No. 2 Cleveland at No. 1 Boston (TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET)
2016-17 Regular Season (Cavaliers 3-1)
Nov. 3 Celtics at Cavaliers (-10.5) 128-122 (Over 207)
Dec. 29 Celtics at Cavaliers (-6) 124-118 (Over 207)
Mar. 1 Cavaliers at Celtics (-2) 103-99 (Under 224)
Apr. 5 Cavaliers (+4) at Celtics 114-91 (Under 222)
LeBron James is riding an incredible streak of Eastern Conference championships by playing in the last seven NBA Finals. James and the Cavaliers have yet to lose a playoff game in this postseason after sweeping through the Pacers and Raptors, but Cleveland will have to knock out Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals without the benefit of home-court advantage.
Boston (53-29) finished two games ahead of Cleveland in the regular season to wrap up the top seed and set themselves up for home-court against the defending champions if they were to meet in the East Finals. The Celtics dug themselves a 2-0 hole in the opening round against the Bulls before beating Chicago in four straight games, which included three victories at the United Center. Boston needed seven games to eliminate Washington in the conference semifinals as not once did the road team come out victorious.
The Cavaliers were actually tested more in the opening round sweep against Indiana than they were in the second round against Toronto. Cleveland failed to cover in the first two wins at home, while needing to overcome a 25-point deficit in a 106-102 Game 3 triumph at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Tyronn Lue’s club needed six games to eliminate Toronto in the conference finals in 2016, but the Cavs cruised to a four-game sweep with two of those wins coming by 21 points or more.
James continues to play at a high level for the Cavaliers, who are seeking a third straight NBA Finals appearance after last June’s incredible rally from 3-1 down to stun the Warriors for the franchise’s first title. James is averaging 34.4 points per game, which is eight points higher than last year’s average in the postseason, while Kyrie Irving is nearly mirroring his numbers from the 2016 championship run (25.2 ppg) by scoring 23.8 ppg through Cleveland’s first eight victories.
Isaiah Thomas has gone from nice NBA player early in his career to a legitimate superstar since his first season in Boston in 2015-16. The diminutive point guard averaged a career-high 28.9 ppg in the regular season, while posting an incredible 53-point effort in a Game 2 overtime victory over Washington in the conference semifinals. Thomas helped carry Boston to a 115-105 win in Game 7 over the Wizards by scoring 29 points and dishing out 12 assists to lead the C’s to their first conference finals appearance since 2012 against Miami.
The Cavaliers captured the season series with the Celtics by taking three of four matchups. Cleveland won the first two meetings at Quicken Loans Arena, as the Cavs hung on to beat the Celtics on November 3 by a 128-122 count. Boston outscored Cleveland by 11 points in the fourth quarter to pick up a cover as 10 ½-point underdogs, but James was too much for the Celtics by scoring 30 points and collecting 12 assists.
In late December, Kevin Love put together one of his best games of the season with 30 points and 15 rebounds to lead Cleveland to a 124-118 triumph as six-point favorites. Both teams shot over 50% from the floor, while Thomas topped the 30-point mark for the second time against Cleveland. However, Thomas shot 2-of-11 from three-point range in those two defeats, while converting on all 27 free throw attempts.
Boston broke through at home on March 1 with a 103-99 win as 1 ½-point favorites, as the Celtics limited the Cavaliers to 40% shooting from the floor. Thomas led Boston with a game-high 31 points as the Celtics snapped a three-game home losing streak to Cleveland that included a pair of defeats in the 2015 playoffs.
Cleveland rebounded in the final matchup at TD Garden on April 5 as the Cavaliers jumped out to a 15-point halftime lead and cruised to a 114-91 rout as four-point underdogs. Thomas struggled again from downtown by hitting only 1-of-8 three-point attempts, while James ran all over the Celtics for 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting.
From a pointspread perspective, the Celtics have caught fire since dropping the first two games to the Bulls in the opening round by posting a terrific 9-2 ATS record the last 11 contests. Brad Stevens’ squad has cashed in each of their past five home games, while flipping to a home underdog for the first time in the playoffs in Game 1.
Like Boston, Cleveland failed to cash in its first two playoff contests, but the Cavaliers are riding a 5-0-1 ATS run the past six games. Since James returned to Cleveland in 2014, the Cavs are 1-2 SU/ATS in playoff openers on the road as both losses came at Golden State in the Finals.
The Celtics and Cavaliers hooked up in the playoffs in 2015 as Cleveland pulled off a four-game sweep in the opening round of the 40-42 Boston club. After winning the opening game by 13 points, each of the final three victories came by exactly eight points apiece, while Boston was limited to 95 points or fewer in the last three losses.
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook opened the total for Game 1 at 219 ½ and the number has been pushed up to 220 as of Tuesday evening.
“If you’ve been betting the ‘over’ in this year’s playoffs, then accept our congratulations! The high side has connected at a 58 percent clip in the postseason and that number spiked up in the conference semifinals as 14 of the 21 (67%) games went ‘over’ the number. The oddsmakers aren’t expecting things to slow down in this series and it should be known that there hasn’t been a total this high in the conference finals since the Suns and Lakers were running and gunning in the 2010 playoffs,” said David.
“Based on what we’ve seen from both teams, the opening number seems fair and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go higher throughout the series. The new-look NBA relies heavily on 3-point shooting and both the Celtics (35.1) and Cavaliers (33.1) haven’t shied away from that trend. It’s arguable that the long break between series could hurt Cleveland, especially because they couldn’t miss (43.4%) from downtown in its first eight playoff games.”
“Cleveland has watched the ‘over’ go 6-2 in the playoffs and it will be facing a Boston team that’s watched the ‘over’ go 6-1 in seven games played at TD Garden in the playoffs. The Celtics offense is in great form (122.5 PPG) and they’ll be facing a Cavaliers defense that has looked suspect (104.9 PPG) this season. If the officials help out on Wednesday with their whistles, bettors might be cashing the ‘over’ early.”
Cleveland took care of its business as a short road favorite this season by going 11-3 both SU and ATS and that includes two wins in the playoffs against Indiana and Toronto. Meanwhile, Boston struggled as a home underdog by compiling a 1-2 mark this season. If you go back to the 2015-16 season, the Celtics went 2-6 SU and 2-5-1 ATS.
The Cavaliers enter this series as heavy -900 favorites (Bet $900 to win $100) at the Westgate to advance to their third straight NBA Finals. In spite of owning the top-seed and home-court advantage, the Celtics are listed as a +600 underdog (Bet $100 to win $600) to knock off the Cavaliers four times.
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals tips off on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. from TD Garden and can be seen on TNT.