BOSTON –The idea of the Cavs going into a must-win Game 7 without Kevin Love, who's in the NBA concussion protocol and won't play Sunday night, should put the Celtics at a significant advantage, right?
One of the keys to Boston’s success has been the impact Al Horford makes offensively, particularly at home. Horford has been at his best as a scorer in this series when matched up against Love.
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In this series, Horford has scored 31 points on 61 possessions with Love as the primary defender, shooting 76.5 percent from the field (13-for-17) and 60 percent (3-for-5) from 3-point range in that matchup.
Horford will get a much heavier dose of LeBron James, Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr., who combined to do a really good job on him in Game 6 when Horford scored just six points on 2-for-8 shooting.
But again, Horford has been a very different (read: better) player offensively at the TD Garden than on the road, regardless of who he’s matched up against.
Another byproduct of no Love for Game 7 is the potential for Boston to play Aron Baynes more.
Love’s ability to stretch the floor from beyond the 3-point line made him a tough cover for Baynes, who does his best work defensively around the post.
Baynes should have better luck defending Tristan Thompson, who had a series-low six rebounds in Game 5 at TD Garden.
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Knowing Love won’t be out there, the Celtics have to brace themselves for a full 48 minutes of LeBron James, who had 46 points in 46 minutes in Game 6.
James will certainly look to be even more aggressive and impactful than we’ve seen in the first six games. And while he continues to score in bunches, the Celtics have done a slightly better job defensively against him at home than on the road.
At TD Garden, he’s averaging 27.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 8.7 assists while shooting 47.8 percent from the field.
When he’s in the comfy confines of Quicken Loans Arena, James’ numbers improve to 39.0 points, along with 7.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists, while shooting 55.4 percent from the field.
The bottom line is clear: With or without Kevin Love in the lineup, the Celtics are going to be challenged by a Cleveland team on several fronts as Boston tries to do what hasn’t been done in nearly a decade – send LeBron James home for the summer without a trip to the NBA Finals.