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NBA Playoffs 2010: Celtics-Cavaliers Series Preview

The Celtics would love to see LeBron James continue shooting his free-throws left-handed. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics made short work of the Miami Heat in their opening-round series, finishing off Dwayne Wade and Co. in just five games. Unfortunately, the road to the NBA Finals doesn’t get any easier for the C’s, as they prepare for a second-round series with LeBron James and the No. 1-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Celtics looked like a title contender in their opening-round series. A 46-point effort from Dwayne Wade in Game 4 was the only thing that kept Boston from completing a sweep of the Heat. Kevin Garnett is healthy, Ray Allen is shooting lights out from beyond the arc, and Paul Pierce appears as determined as ever to capture his second ring. Rajon Rondo, the un-sung hero of the group, continued his solid play, averaging 14.8 points and 10.2 assists in the opening round. The Celtics will need whom many are now calling “The Big Four” to keep playing at an extremely high-level to have a chance at upsetting the Cavs.

The Cavaliers finished off the Chicago Bulls in five games in their opening-round series, conceding Game 3 in Chicago. Soon-to-be NBA MVP LeBron James continued his dominant play, averaging 31.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 9.2 rebounds against the Bulls. The hapless Chicago squad had no answer for King James, nor could they stop the interior-tandem of Antawn Jamison (19.4 PPG) and Shaquille O’Neil (9.2 PPG).

The Cavaliers’ victory over the Bulls was all but unanimously deemed a foregone conclusion, and thus, the story of the series was not the prevalent play of the Cavs, but the injury to LeBron’s right elbow in Game 5. The Cav’s superstar wasn’t sure when he injured the elbow, but said it nagged him throughout the second-half of Game 5. Doctors re-examined his elbow Wednesday night, and X-Rays and an MRI revealed both a strain and a bone bruise near the elbow.

Regular Season Series: Celtics 2, Cavaliers 2

Cleveland and Boston split their regular-season series 2-2, with the C’s taking the first and final match-ups, and the Cavs taking the two games in between. The track record shows we could be in for a seven-game series.

10/27/09: Celtics 95, Cavaliers 89

These two teams tipped off the NBA regular season all the way back in late October. Paul Pierce scored 23 points to spoil Shaq and LeBron’s debut together. The Celtics went on to win seven of their next eight games en route to a 23-5 start.

2/25/10: Cavaliers 108, Celtics 88

It took another four months for Boston and Cleveland to meet again, and this time, the outcome was much different. LeBron scored 36 points and the Cavs blew Boston out of the building, outscoring them 35-14 in the fourth quarter.

3/14/10: Cavaliers 104, Celtics 93

LeBron scored 24 of his 30 points in the second-half as Cleveland outclassed the Celtics for the second time in less than a month. Newcomer Antawn Jamison, acquired by Cleveland at the trade deadline, had 15 points and 12 rebounds in the win.

4/4/10: Celtics 117, Cavaliers 113

The Celtics nearly blew a 22-point lead, but hung on to beat the Cavs, evening up the regular season series at two games apiece. Ray Allen led the way for Boston with 33 points.

Cavaliers Player to Watch: LeBron James

LeBron James is basically the same player as Dwayne Wade, but he’s bigger, stronger, and faster. OK, so maybe he’s not exactly the same player. Let’s describe him as Dwayne Wade on steroids. How does that work for you?

LeBron cut through regular season opponents like a hot knife through butter, all but wrapping up his second consecutive MVP award. As I mentioned earlier, he’s averaging 31.8 PPG and 9.2 rebounds per game this postseason. He’s also averaging 2.4 blocks per game, second only to Dwight Howard (5 blocks per game).

Unlike during the 2008 playoffs, Paul Pierce won’t be able to guard LeBron on his own. Look for Pierce, Tony Allen, and Marquis Daniels to take turns trying to contain him. Daniels saw very little action in the Heat series, but the Celtics don’t have anyone else with the size and strength to matchup with King James.

The Celtics won’t be the only ones keeping an eye on James. Coach Mike Brown and the Cleveland training staff have to be a bit concerned with the star’s injured elbow. James’ right elbow was hurting him so badly in Game 5 versus the Bulls that he decided to shoot a free-throw left-handed with his team only up by four in crunch time. However, it doesn’t appear Boston is adjusting its game plan.

“He’s fine,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “If he goes three or four games and shoots left-handed only, then I’ll believe it’s hurting. We’ll be ready for the LeBron we’ve seen all through the playoffs.”

Celtics Player to Watch: Ray Allen

Ray Allen averaged 19.4 PPG in the opening round series, and made an astounding 19/36 three-pointers. At 34, Allen is one of the oldest players on the Celtics, but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down; in fact, he’s shown just the opposite.

Allen finished the regular season strong, and scored 33 points in a victory over the Cavs in early April. He’ll have to continue his hot shooting in order for the Celtics to advance. Allen will be matched up against 34-year old Anthony Parker, and substitute Delonte West.

Key Matchup: Rajon Rondo vs. Mo Williams

This is one of two areas in which the Celtics have a distinct advantage over the Cavaliers. Rondo is a far more dangerous and explosive player than Mo Williams, but he’ll have to show it in order for his team to have success.

Rondo averaged 14.8 points, 10.2 assists, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.4 steals versus the Heat. He led the league in steals during the regular season, and could give Williams fits with his quick hands. When Rondo gets steals, it leads to easy baskets for the Celtics. Easy baskets may be hard to come by for Boston with James on the perimeter, and Shaq and Jamison lurking in the post.

Mo Williams averaged 15.6 points and 5.2 assists in the Cavs opening round series against the Bulls. He’s a better shooter than Rondo, but as we all know, Rondo is more than capable of finding other ways to score the basketball.

Series Prediction

LeBron has never beaten the Celtics in a playoff series, falling just short in a seven-game series in 2008. I think this will be the year he finally overcomes Boston. With the elbow injury, he won’t be able to do it on his own, but he won’t have to. The Cavs have a distinct advantage in the paint with Jamison, Shaq, and JJ Hickson, and that is where the series will be decided. The Celtics should put up a fight, but I like Cleveland to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. Cavs in 7.

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