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Following Wednesday’s 96-83 win in Game 5, Boston leads the series 3-2 and only 19 of a possible 300 teams have ever overcome a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs.
Moreover, the Celtics are a perfect 37-0 in their postseason history after winning the first two games of a series. However, LeBron James has come back from a 3-2 deficit multiple times during his NBA career, including winning Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics in 2012.
Lebron James is Battling Fatigue
Fatigue is a factor for every player at this juncture of the playoffs but James seems to be especially gassed due to the role he plays for Cleveland. Game 6 at Quicken Loans Arena marks the 99th straight game for James, who hasn’t played that amount of games since his first season (2010-11) with the Miami Heat.
Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue stated after Game 5’s loss that James seemed fatigued, and Marcus Morris made the same observation. “He looked a little tired to me,” Lue said.
“We throw a lot of different bodies at home.” And he has to do a lot for that team,” Morris said of James. “He does a lot for his team – scores, assists, rebounds. I would think he gets a little tired.”
Lue altered his rotation for the first time this postseason to give James additional rest. James received rest at the end of the second quarter and at the outset of the fourth quarter, both of which are highly uncharacteristic.
James has played more minutes than any other player this postseason at 648. The conference finals are now being played every other day and James has never slept well on planes.
James also admitted that he struggles to sleep in the postseason, especially following a loss. Despite being fatigued, James outscored the rest of Cleveland’s starting lineup combined for the fifth time in the playoffs.
The Cavaliers were just 5-of-17 shooting off James’ passes in Game 5, the lowest percentage of Cleveland in the past three postseasons. Cleveland scored 85.1 points per 100 possessions overall in Game 5, including 80.8 points per 100 possessions in the half court. Kevin Love and J.R. Smith combined to go just 2-of-11 from three-point range.
Boston has outscored the Cavaliers by a total of 12 points in this series and had balanced scoring in Game 5. Jayson Tatum scored 24 points – his ninth 20-point game of the postseason – while Al Horford finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds (his seventh double-double of the postseason) and Jaylen Brown had 17 points. Reserves Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart each scored 13 points.
Cleveland’s Fortunes are Determined by the Three-Pointer
Cleveland’s success from beyond the arc determines its fate more than any other team in the league. The Cavaliers have struggled defensively all season and have to rely upon their offense to win games. The one statistic that best illustrated Cleveland’s overall offensive efficiency this season was its three-point percentage, which had a correlation coefficient of 0.58.
In contrast, the correlation between the Celtics’ three-point percentage and their efficiency margin was only 0.28. Following the trades in February, the Cavaliers averaged 13 three-pointers on 42 percent shooting in wins and just nine three-pointers on 29 percent shooting in losses.
In Game 5, James finished 1-of-6 from beyond the arc, while the Cavaliers finished just 9-of-34 overall from deep.
Both Teams Struggle on the Road
Cleveland has a -7.4 Net Rating on the road in this year’s playoffs, while the Celtics own a -11.6 Net Rating away from home this postseason. The teams are a combined 5-10 ATS on the postseason road. Cleveland’s role players have been phenomenal at home; the Celtics youth and inexperience has been evident on the road.
The home-road dichotomy between these teams is the reason I have downgraded our investment on Boston in Game 6.
Boston Possesses a Significant Coaching Edge
Exhibit A for this assertion can be found in Tyronn Lue’s remarks following Game 5 in which he was “thrown for a loop” when Boston did not play Ojeleye. Lue’s in-game response was to keep his second-best offensive player (in terms of plus-minus) in Kyle Korver on the bench. Boston head coach Brad Stevens opted to go big in Game 5 and started Aron Baynes.
Rather than going with a small-ball lineup to open up Cleveland’s offense, Lue played Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson together for 23 minutes against Horford and Baynes.
How incompetent is Lue? Consider that the Love-Thompson combination has generated a 103 offensive rating versus Horford-Baynes and has been outscored by 11 points per 100 possessions. Having Stevens on the sideline in the NBA playoffs is an invaluable asset for the Celtics; having Lue on the opposite sideline in the NBA playoffs is an invaluable intangible for Boston investors.