By Chris David
**No. 1 Boston vs. No. 4 Cleveland**
Series Price: Boston -800, Cleveland +600
Series Format: 2-2-1-1-1
How they got here:
It took Boston seven games, but the top seed in the Eastern Conference finally stopped Atlanta in the first round. Most prognosticators expected the Celtics to finish off the Hawks in four or five games, yet the club couldn't close the door in any of their three trips to Georgia.
The Celtics' defense held Atlanta to 81, 77, 85 and 65 points in their four home victories. However, the Hawks lit up the scoreboard at home with 102, 97 and 93 points. In two of the three road losses, Doc Rivers' team was outscored in the fourth quarter (24-18, 32-17).
As expected, Kevin Garnett (21 PPG), Paul Pierce (18 PPG) and Ray Allen (16.4 PPG) made up more than half of the Celtics' offense (99.1) in the first round.
Cleveland took its fair share of lumps against Washington and still advanced to the second round behind LeBron James. The All-Star averaged 29.8 points per game, 9.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists for the Cavaliers after getting fouled hard in every game.
Daniel Gibson (11.8 PPG) and Wally Szczerbiak (10.8 PPG) both proved to be big assets for James by drilling outside shots off his dribble penetration.
The two wins on the road for the Cavaliers were definitely surprising, considering the team has struggled away from home during the regular season.
Cleveland was the third worst free throw shooting (71.7%) team in the NBA during the regular season. Unfortunately, things got worse in the postseason against the Wizards as the team shot a dreadful 70 percent mark against the Wizards.
-- Most books opened Boston as a 10-point favorite in Game 1, with the total hovering between 183 and 184 points. The Celtics were laying 13 ½ and 9 ½-points in the two regular season battles at TD Banknorth Garden.
-- Boston has outscored opponents by 14 PPG (101-87) at home this year.
-- Cleveland was an underdog (+3) in its first home battle (11/27/07) versus Boston, but was laying points (-3) in the second matchup. The Cavs should open up as short favorites in Game 3 but all that could change depending on the previous outcomes. Boston owns an impressive 8-3 record ATS as a road underdog this year.
-- The Celtics were 0-3 both straight up and against the spread in their three visits to Atlanta in the first round, but countered with a perfect 4-0 SU and ATS mark at home.
-- Cleveland covered every game that it won against Washington, including two road victories as live underdogs (+170, +130).
-- Boston watched the 'over' go 4-3 in the first round against Atlanta, while Cleveland saw the 'over' notch a 4-2 mark in its six games against Washington.
-- The Celtics and Cavaliers watched the 'under' go 2-0 in the two games played in Boston and the 'over' go 2-0 in the two battles from Cleveland during the regular season.
-- Despite winning two games at Washington in the first round, Cleveland still owns an inconsistent 20-24 SU and 24-20 ATS ledger on the road.
-- All seven of the games will be played on one-day breaks, which is great for Boston. Doc's club has gone 40-10 SU and 32-18 ATS with just a day of rest.
The two clubs split the four regular season meetings with the home team capturing every game. LeBron James averaged 32.3 PPG in the head-to-head battles and missed the game on Dec. 2 at Boston, which saw his team only post 70 points in the loss.
Surprisingly, Kevin Garnett (15.3 PPG) and Paul Pierce (13.5 PPG) struggled against the Cavaliers this year, but Ray Allen found his stroke often. The former UConn standout drilled 46 percent (33-of-64) of his shots against the Cavs, including 12 bombs from 3-point land en route to an average of 23.8 points per game.
Cleveland continues to be too dependent on James and its outside shot. The Cavs averaged 9.8 3-pointers in their four wins against the Wizards, with Szczerbiak (9) and Gibson (15) teeing off from beyond the arc. In the two setbacks, the club shot 27 percent (11-of-41) from downtown.
The Cavaliers won the battle of the boards (44-39) against the Celtics and that margin could increase if Mike Brown can ever get forward Ben Wallace (4.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG) to step up.
Asking Cleveland to win this series is tough. It might be able to get one or even two at home, but just like every other opponent, it will have trouble winning at Boston.
The Cavaliers are one of two teams (Utah) remaining in the playoffs with a losing record on the road. Also, Cleveland was one of four playoff squads that gave up more points than they scored this year. The other three clubs (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington) were all ousted in the first round.
Even though LeBron will be the best player on the court in this series, the Cavaliers don't have a supporting cast that will carry him against the Celtics' three-headed monster.
As seen in their four home victories, expect the Celtics to pick up the defensive pressure and have somebody else beat them besides James. On another note, Boston’s offense was mediocre against Atlanta. The club only stepped up in Game 5’s 110-85 blowout, shooting 53 percent from the floor. If the Celtics hit their outside shots, then expect a few double-digit victories.
Look for Boston to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2002, when it fell to the Nets in six games.
Laying 1/8 (Bet $800 to win $100) is never a smart as a gambler, especially on a core of players (Pierce, Garnett, Allen) that have often appeared soft in their playoff careers. Grabbing Cleveland at plus-600 (Bet $100 to win $600) seems generous, considering it is the defending champions of the East and James will dominate whoever he faces.
Still, Boston should be awake for this series after getting embarrassed three times against Atlanta. Rather than expecting a tight series, gamblers may want to take a shot on a Boston sweep or victory in five games, since public perception believes the Celtics are ripe for a second round shocker.
Even the oddsmakers at Sportsbook.com believe Boston will win in four (3/1) or five games (3/2) rather than six or seven (4/1)
Re: Celtics-Cavaliers preview
NBA series preview & pick: Boston vs. Cleveland
By RYAN STETSON
Boston Celtics (1) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (4)
Series odds: Boston -800 Cleveland +600
Season series: 2-2 tie
Maybe it just took the Boston Celtics seven full games against the lowly Atlanta Hawks to find their A-game. Or, maybe they just weren’t as ready for the postseason as they thought they were. Either way, don't expect the Cleveland Cavaliers to let them off the hook.
The Cavs survived six scrappy games against the Wizards, covering the number in each of their four wins, thanks in large part to LeBron James, of course. King James didn’t back down from Washington’s tough play in the paint and he’ll likely cause some major problems for the Celtics too after averaging 32.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists in three games against Boston this season.
But everybody knows what LeBron’s all about. Cleveland’s going to need a lot of help from James’ supporting cast to keep up with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, though it looks like Daniel Gibson, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and ex-Celtics Wally Szczerbiak, and Delonte West could be ready to help out after some good work against Washington.
The first quarter will be particularly important in this series. Boston loves to come out and drop its pressure defense on teams early, trying to bury teams before they know what happened, so the longer Cleveland can hang around the better for Cavs bettors. The same holds true for the series in general, too. When the Celtics start fast and their shots are going down early there aren't many teams that keep up, and when they're doing that at home when the Garden's going bananas you can be two games behind in a hurry.
That's what LeBron and the Cavs need to avoid. If they can steal one of the first couple on the road, this series is going to be a lot closer than the series odds would have you believe. Boston is a deeper, stronger team, but if we're talking series prices, I wouldn't touch the C's at -800. Throw a little sprinkle on the Cavs instead.
Prediction: Cavs in seven