2010 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview: Cavaliers vs Celtics

The Cleveland Cavaliers not-so-easily dispatched of the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs in 5 games and now are gearing up for a matchup fans have been waiting for. Ever since Paul Pierce dueled with LeBron James in that infamous Game 7 two seasons ago, Cavs fans (and presumably LeBron himself) have wanted a chance at redemption and vindication. The basketball gods have smiled their gracious faces upon us and given us a chance to vicariously achieve our revenge and true justice. Perhaps for some fans this is overstating the importance of a battle against a bunch of aging Hall of Famers, but not for this fan, and I suspect, for many Cavs fans out there like myself. This is a war 2 years in the making. 

Projected Starting Lineups

Boston Celtics:

-G Rajon Rondo (42.0 min, 14.8 pts, 6.2 reb, 10.2 ast)
-G Ray Allen (35.4 min, 19.4 pts, 2.6 reb, 3.4 ast)
-F Paul Pierce (38.6 min, 19.6 pts, 6.2 reb, 3.2 ast)
-F Kevin Garnett (35.5 min, 15.8 pts, 8.8 reb, 2.5 ast)
-C Kendrick Perkins (27.4 min, 5.8 pts, 7.6 reb, 1.2 ast)

Key Postseason Reserves: Glen Davis, Shelden Williams, Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace

Injuries: None

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-G Mo Williams (37.2 min, 15.6 pts, 2.6 reb, 5.2 ast)
-G Anthony Parker (26.4 min, 8.2 pts, 2.2 reb, 1.4 ast)
-F LeBron James (41.0 min, 31.8 pts, 9.2 reb, 8.2 ast)
-F Antawn Jamison (35.0 min, 19.4 pts, 7.4 reb, 1.6 ast)
-C Shaquille O’Neal (20.6 min, 9.2 pts, 6.2 reb, 1.8 ast)

Key Postseason Reserves: Delonte West, Anderson Varejao, Jamario Moon

Injuries: LeBron James (Right Elbow Bruise, Expected to Play)

Four Factors


  • eFG%: Cle – .558 (1st); Bos – .523 (5th)
  • TOV%: Cle – .132 (9th); Bos – .156 (14th)
  • ORB%: Cle – .230 (14th); Bos – .208 (16th)
  • FT/FGA: Cle – .249 (10th); Bos – .266 (6th)


  • eFG%: Cle – .457 (2nd); Bos – .479 (7th)
  • TOV%: Cle – .094 (16th); Bos – .173 (1st)
  • DRB%: Cle – .750 (7th); Bos – .774 (2nd)
  • FT/FGA: Cle – .211 (3rd); Bos – .176 (1st)

Other Miscellaneous Stats

  • Pace: Cle – 92.4 (4th); Bos – 91.1 (6th)
  • Off Pts per 100 possessions: Cle – 115.0 (4th); Bos – 105.2 (10th)
  • Def Pts per 100 possessions: Cle – 105.0 (5th); Bos – 91.1 (1st)

Game Notes

It’s bizarre how similar these 2 teams really are. They both excel at getting easy baskets in the paint and are excellent at defending against teams in the paint. Both are average in fast break points but do a pretty good job of transition defense. The Cavaliers had a 1.719 Assist/Turnover Ratio this year, the Celtics had a 1.665 ratio. If there’s an edge for the Cavaliers anywhere in this matchup, it’s 1) LeBron James, and 2) the Cavaliers are a better 3 pt shooting team than the Celtics.

It’s a little funny to me how we scoffed all year at the pundits saying if the Celtics can stay healthy they can still do some damage in the playoffs. Well, here we are now, it’s the playoffs, and the Celtics are 100% healthy (relative to postseason health) while the Cavaliers are going through Elbow-gate with LeBron James. It’s the Cavaliers who are trying to work Shaq back into game shape. It’s the Cavaliers who hold their breath every single time Antawn Jamison hits the floor hard.

Of course, none of this is to say the Cavaliers are going to lost this series. It’s just to point out the Celtics are healthy, and they are a damn good basketball team. If we are to buy the old “defense wins Championships” mantra, then the Cavaliers could be in a little bit of trouble. The Celtics are the better defensive team by far, while the Cavaliers are the better offensive team by far.

The Cavaliers are going to win this series in the margins by doing 2 things. First, they must attack the defensive boards with vigor. Unlike the Bulls, who dominated the Cavaliers on the glass, the Celtics are not a good offensive rebounding team whatsoever. To beat them, the Cavaliers cannot allow the Celtics to rack up 2nd chance points like the Bulls can.

The second thing the Cavs must do is protect the basketball. The Cavaliers were a very similar offensive rebounding team to the Miami Heat this season, and the Celtics just killed them on the defensive glass limiting the Heat’s ability to get 2nd chance points all series. This puts extra emphasis on the Cavaliers not turning the ball over and giving the Celtics extra points and possessions because the strain created by the importance of that first shot for Cleveland is too much to make up for.

The Cavaliers were the 3rd best eFG% team and the 3rd best in defensive eFG% this season. So far they are 1st in eFG% in the postseason and 2nd in defensive eFG%. If we accept the basic premise that the single most important element to the game of basketball is the ability to efficiently put the basketball in the hoop, then this bodes well for Cleveland as long as they play to their expected norm.

From a strict Xs and Os standpoint, I think we all know by now how these teams play and match up against each other. Celtics fans will say “Pierce wasn’t playing in the 1 Celtics loss and the Celtics are 2-1 against Cleveland with him”, while Cavs fans will say “Jamison wasn’t on the team yet in the 1 Cavs loss and the Cavs are 2-1 against Boston with him.” And that pretty much just sums up the evenness of this series.

Much like Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo is going to terrorize Mo Williams and break him down off the dribble at will. Whereas Rose had the threat of the mid range pull up jumper, this is still not a great option for Rondo. The Cavaliers can afford to attempt to force him to shoot more from the outside. I don’t think Parker will be as effective on Rondo as he was on Rose because it was Parker’s size that helped neutralize Rose’s shot. Rondo is a different animal, though. In a perfect world, Delonte West would see heavy minutes defending Rondo and allowing Mo and Parker to just stick with Ray Allen and never let him get good looks.

I can see this series going 5 games and I can see it going 7. I don’t think the Cavaliers will win 2 games in Boston, so I don’t think it will go 6. Unless Boston steals one of these first 2 games and wins it in 6. I don’t think Boston will win 2 games in Cleveland, so if the Cavaliers win these first 2 games, I think they’re in excellent shape to win this series. The Celtics are playing great basketball while the Cavaliers have been playing mediocre basketball, so these first 2 games are where this series will be won or lost in my opinion. I’m ready for the Cavaliers to step and start making a statement.

One final thought before we wrap this up. There’s been a lot of talk about Orlando’s cake walk to the ECF this season. They swept Charlotte and will almost certainly overpower Milwaukee or Atlanta in the next round. Probably in another 4 or 5 game series. Meanwhile, Cleveland faced a stiff test in the first round and are now set for a brutal, physically and mentally draining matchup with the Celtics. I can’t help but think about how much the roles are reversed from last year when the Cavaliers flew through the first 2 rounds before facing a buzz saw in the form of a tough battle-tested Magic team. Hopefully that will also reverse the fortunes of last year. I don’t mean to get ahead of myself here, but it helps to put these struggles into context and I only bring it up now as some food for thought as the Cavaliers go through this vicious 2nd round matchup.

  • JJ

    I live in Boston. Have been here for 9 years now. It is my own, personal hell dealing with their fans. Please God, let us destroy these punks.

    Question of the series: Who will talk more? KG or the announcers?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    KG. Always KG.

  • Kevin Hignett

    @JJ – Always KG, and it’s not even close. He even talks to himself when nobody else is listening!

    Cavs Revenge Tour 2010:

    Chicago Bulls (Revenge for 1989)
    Boston Celtics (Revenge for 2008)
    Orlando Magic (Revenge for 2009)
    San Antonio Spurs (Revenge for 2007)

    One down, three to go.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    “I can’t help but think about how much the roles are reversed from last year when the Cavaliers flew through the first 2 rounds before facing a buzz saw in the form of a tough battle-tested Magic team.”

    Or in 2007 Cavs tore through Washington sans Arenas and then New Jersey… It all evens out.

    Part of loves the idea of having Mo guard Allen. The other part of me saw what Allen did to Cleveland throught the entire regular season.

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  • Kevin

    This was a great rundown of the matchup. I think it will be a very entertaining and somewhat chippy series. I just have to point out one thing.

    “if the Cavaliers win these first 2 games, I think they’re in excellent shape to win this series”

    Yes…going up 2 games to nil gives you a good chance to win a series…mostly due to the fact that the opposing team needs to win 4 out of the next 5.

  • Kevin

    One more thing…Is anyone else frustrated with the 2-2-1-1-1 format for the first 3 rounds of the playoffs? The 2-3-2 format gives the higher ranked team a significantly better home court advantage. The current format nearly neutralizes the advantage.

    I guess I just can’t stand the fact that the 8 seed in a series only has to win one game on the road out of the first two and then ‘hold serve’ through the next 4 or five games.

    The Lakers series is a perfect example. As much as I loathe the Lakers, their series would be totally different if they were playing game 6 in L.A.

    When did they switch to this format anyway?

  • Chris

    If Mo does end up guarding Rondo for any amount of time, I certainly hope that they drill into his head to roll underneath screens instead of chasing Rondo over the top of them.

    I’d be willing thrilled to give Rondo an 18 foot jumper all series long.

  • mgbode

    ” guess I just can’t stand the fact that the 8 seed in a series only has to win one game on the road out of the first two and then ‘hold serve’ through the next 4 or five games”

    but, if the 8seed wins 1 of the first 2 and holds serve in a 2-3-2 setup, the 1seed never gets back to their home court.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    @Scott: perhaps, but the Pistons’ route to the ECF that year was every bit as easy as the Cavs’ was. My general point was more about the difference when one team has an easy road and the other team has a difficult road. Sure, it’s a limited sample size, but I thought it was still an interesting thought to ponder.

  • Matt#2

    The 2-2-1-1-1-1 format looks like it is designed to share revenue?

  • Kevin

    @9…good point. I guess my theory only holds water in a tightly contested series between two evenly match teams. I just like the idea that in a tight series, the “home” team gets two chances to win the series at home at the end.

    Here’s the main point…

    Game #6 = Always an Elimination Game; Always at “Away” team’s house in current Conference Playoff Format.

    Game #5 = Not Necessarily an Elimination Game. In current format, it’s played at home team’s house. In 2-3-2, it’s at the away team’s house.

    I guess what I’m saying is that in the 2-3-2 format, if you aren’t good enough to win 2 out of the first 5 games, you weren’t that good to begin with and you dont deserve to use your Game 6 and Game 7 home court advantage. In the 2-2-1-1-1 format, you can slip up for one game and you’re immediately facing the prospect of either winning 3 of the next four to clinch at home OR holding off elimination ON THE ROAD in Game 6.

    I hope that makes sense, cuz my head hurts. Maybe this topic needs an open forum for discussion…or maybe it’s just me.

  • hashish

    Did you see what Jamario did in his limited minutes? They need to start him against Ray Allen with Parker coming off the bench. Parker is just not producing, plus he is a defensive liability. Goose rallies the fans with the alley-oops, block shots, and high flying rebounds.

  • Matt#2


  • AMC

    Highly anticipating Saturday night’s Game 1 tip-off. I imagine the fans will be hyped for this particular matchup. The Celtics will certainly be a test for this Cavs team, but the Cavs’ talent is still clearly superior to that of the Celtics (the bench comparison is particularly glaring in the Cavs favor). As long as the Cavs come out with the right mindset and defensive intensity, they should win this series in no more than 5 games. That is if LeBron is healthy…

  • Matt#2

    GO REFS!

  • ClevelandSouth


    I went to school in upstate NY where there was an even mix of NY and Boston fans. Torture. I can’t imagine how hard it would be if it were all one or the other.

    I still have flashbacks of pink Red Sox hats.

  • Phil M

    I don’t know what their names are, but the two Boston game announcers for the Celtics are horrible. They always have a chip on their shoulder, take extremely partisan views of the refs’ calls, and get childishly sour and mean toward their own team when the the Celtics aren’t winning.

    They seem to fit the team perfectly.

  • Gren

    @ Phil, sounds like every Boston fan I know…

    The X-Factor of the series : How annoying with the Celtics stadium announcer will be.

  • Gren

    The X-Factor of the series : How annoying will* the Celtics stadium announcer will be.

  • theClevelandKid

    better give jj some big minutes in this series

  • Christopher

    I am in no means looking past the Celtics but has anyone else realized these playoffs could be destiny?

    1. Beat the Buls for all those 90’s playoff series.
    2. Then crush the Celtics for 2008 payback.
    3. Then the Magic for last year’s upset.
    4. Last but not least potentially the Spurs who beat us in 2007 Finals or the Lakers in the “MVP Showdown”.

    What a chance to exercise the demons from all our past failures!!

  • Christopher

    I am in no means looking past the Celtics but has anyone else realized these playoffs could be destiny?

    1. Beat the Buls for all those 90’s playoff series.
    2. Then crush the Celtics for 2008 payback.
    3. Then the Magic for last year’s upset.
    4. Last but not least potentially the Spurs who beat us in 2007 Finals or the Lakers in the “MVP Showdown”.

    What a chance to exercise the demons from all our past failures!!

    /dream sequence’d

  • Matt#2


    Check out Kevin Hignett @ #3

  • Christopher

    /slow to the party

    I humbly bow to the dark corner, Kevin.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    @ Phil – um, have you HEARD Austin Carr call a thing, ever?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    @ Christopher – if we help demons exercise they’ll be bigger and badder than ever :/

  • Christopher

    Denny, demons don’t get stronger or meaner when excercised, they turn into those furry gizmo things…..or was that when they get water splashed on them?

    Dallas Mavs = Cleveland (Indians, Cavs, Browns) of the West. No matter how they load up they can never get over the hump.

  • MattC

    Put me in the start Jamario camp. Put Parker on the pine permanently.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Brendan

    Tom Heinsohn is the Celtics color guy on TV and he is the patriarch who spawned all the Austin Carrs and homers we see everywhere else. I find Heinsohn really funny and entertaining at this point but it is totally in an unintentional way. He is crazy and sometimes potentially liquored up on the air. While AC is always overly enthusiastic, Heinsohn legitimately loses it on the air all the time, often blowing his top mostly over the refs. Not sure the local TV crews cover the playoffs after the first round.

  • phil m

    Denny: maybe I don’t hear AC call enough games to find him irritating, but at least he has his own style or signature. I know that some people can’t stand him, but I’m not one of them.

    Those Boston guys bring nothing to the table. They sound like ill-informed ruffians from the next bar stool over.

    I wouldn’t mind hearing Tom Hamilton call a Cavs game!

  • phil m

    Brendan: thanks for the info. Yeah, it’s Tom Heinsohn, and I laughed at the “liquored up” part because that’s exactly the impression I’ve had a few times while listening to him.

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  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Jacob Rosen

    “I don’t think the Cavaliers will win 2 games in Boston, so I don’t think it will go 6.”

    Not sure what you mean there Andrew… Cavs could win games 1, 2 and 5 in CLE and then finish things up in game six on the road. Much like what the Lakers could do tonight in OKC.

  • Swig

    I’m pretty sure 2-2-1-1-1 is the preferred method of running a playoff series. I don’t think they want the extra home court advantage from a 2-3-2.

    In the finals they likelihood of a East coast-West coast match-up is much higher. It costs a lot for the extra travel, and would wear teams out more.

    Or something like that…

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    @Jacob: Yeah, that sentence is all kinds of fail. My bad. What I really mean is just that I don’t have faith in the Cavs closing out this series in Boston, so I think it will go either 5 or 7 games if the Cavaliers are to win. If Boston wins this series, I think it will only be in 6. I don’t believe Cleveland would lose a Game 7 at home to the Celtics. I hope, anyway.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    In regards to the playoff format, if I have home court advantage, and the series is going to go chalk through 5 games, I certainly would prefer 2-2-1-1-1. No way on earth do I want to have to come back home with my opponent having 2 chances to win the series. And yes, I do realize how hard/rare it is in any sport for the home team to win those middle 3 games. But none the less, I like the idea of getting to play the generally pivotal Game 5 at home.

  • http://mrrklaw.com tsm

    with regard to the format, 2-2-1-1-1 is the tradional one that has existed since the 60’s. In fact, the finals were always this way until recently. In order to minimize travel from coast to coast, the finals format was switched to 2-3-2. I just don’t remember the year, but I am pretty sure that when Magic & Byrd went at it the traditional format was still in place.
    As far as the matchups, Shaq should be more effective playing against Perkins, and we need to run as often as possible to wear out those old legs of the Celts. Cavs in 5.

  • JM

    I think this is the series that will wake the Cavs up and prepare them for the rest of the playoffs.

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  • Glen

    I don’t get why you guys are in favor of Jamario over Parker. Parker is a much better shooter and more experienced player. Jamario is like a smaller (and more capable) Hickson. I like what Chris Ballard said on twitter today about Hickson’s diversified repertoire of moves in today’s scrimmage: power dunk, power dunk, and missed power dunk. Jamario is similar, he will have a few dazzling plays and then regress into taking too many threes. He made some timely ones last series, but you can’t expect that from a guy with a 36% career average. It’s not like he shut down Rose last series, and Rondo would probably torch him.

    As for the playoff format, I would rather have game 5 at home than on the road. In 2-2 series, the winner of game 5 wins the series 83% of the time. TNT had that on during the LA/OKC game. Can’t debate that.

    @TSM The problem with running is that we don’t exactly have much speed or conditioning with our bigs (Shaq/Z), and the only Celtic player with bad knees is KG, and he’s got a lot less weight to carry. The key to the series is help defense. If we rotate well there won’t be any problems. The Celtics have a lot of capable players outside and inside, we can’t lose them once the ball gets moving. I’m worried about having to play big, and our subsequent loss of offensive production. The Celtics have capable bigs coming from the bench and they definitely have the advantage over JJ, who can’t score without LeBron feeding him the ball, and Z, who is essentially a 7’4″ corpse. Baby and Sheed can put points up on them and spread the court for guys like Tony Allen and Nate. The Bulls were easy to match up with, this series will require much more coaching, and that worries me.

    Cavs in a very chippy and entertaining 6.

  • http://mcbone.blogspot.com Nate

    I’m not sure that Boston is a “better defensive team, by far.” I don’t even think they’re better, really. I think they’ll have a hard time cracking 85 against the Cavs’ defense in this series. The Cavs will be WAY more motivated playing a good Celtics team than they were against a highly mediocre Bulls squad.

    I also don’t see the Miami series as evidence that the Celtics are playing “great basketball.” Miami wasn’t much of a test.

    Great post otherwise.


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