Game 5 - Cleveland at Boston - 8:30 PM on TNT (Cavs lead series 3-1)
The Cavs breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping away the Pacers and Raptors without having to exert too much effort. The first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals were even easier. The Cavs pummeled the C’s in Beantown, winning Game 1 by a final score of 117-104 and winning Game 2 by a record 44-point margin.
With the Warriors winning 12 straight out West and advancing to the Finals with an unblemished record, it looked like the Cavs would join them at 12-0, especially after Isaiah Thomas was ruled out of the postseason with a hip injury prior to Game 3. However, the C’s shocked the Cavs on Sunday night, to cut the series deficit in half. Then, in Game 4 on Tuesday, it appeared Boston might do the unthinkable and tie the series up at two games apiece. Boston was up by 16 points late in the first half, and LeBron James was on the bench with four fouls.
Kyrie Irving had other ideas. He put Cleveland on his back in the second and third quarters, scoring 33 points on 13-16 shooting during that stretch. LeBron scored 15 points in the fourth to take his team home. James and Irving outscored the Celtics by 10 points themselves (60-50) after the C's took that 16-point lead in the second quarter. Thus, the Cavs enter Thursday night’s Game 5 with a chance to put the finishing touches on a dominant run through the East, and punch their ticket for another showdown with Golden State.
These playoffs have been somewhat disappointing, but the third part of the trilogy, the rubber match, between the Cavs and Warriors has the possibility of proving epic entertainment.
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However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll have plenty of time to preview the 2017 Finals. Cleveland still has to win one more game to advance.
If Boston is going to force a Game 6, they are going to need Avery Bradley to continue carrying the offensive load, only hoping that he does so more efficiently. Bradley is the Celtics leading scorer this series, averaging 18.3 points, but is shooting just 38.7 percent from the floor, including 25.0 percent from downtown. "We owe our fans a better performance, and we know that, and we're going to play hard," Bradley told reporters on Wednesday. "You're going to see a team playing hard, very hard, the entire game."
Jae Crowder also needs to maintain his strong play. Crowder is averaging a team-high 7.8 rebounds, to go along with 15.5 points, while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 44.0 percent from 3-point territory. Crowder strained his left groin in the third quarter of Game 3, but returned shortly thereafter and played the entire fourth quarter. Afterward, he said he was “fine.” Crowder is listed as probable for Game 5 on Thursday and is fully expected to suit up. Amir Johnson (right shoulder sprain), who was sidelined for Game 4, is also listed as probable. However, it is unknown if coach Brad Stevens plans to insert Johnson back into the starting lineup, or leave him on the pine.
Al Horford is averaging just 4.5 boards per game vs. Cleveland, but has chipped in 5.3 assists and 13.5 points per contest. Marcus Smart was phenomenal in Game 3, scoring a career-high 27 points on 8-of-14 FGs, including seven 3-pointers, with seven assists, five rebounds and two steals. However, he came crashing back down to earth in Game 4, scoring eight points on 1-of-9 shooting. Jaylen Brown has been a pleasant surprise for Boston in this series, providing solid defense and scoring at least nine points in three of the first four games. Unfortunately, Brown is dealing with a right hip pointer and is listed as questionable for Thursday. If Brown is unable to play, Jonas Jerebko and Kelly Olynyk will likely see an uptick in minutes.
If the C’s can figure out a way to steal another game, the Cavs would head back to Cleveland needing to win Game 6 to avoid playing a winner-take-all Game 7 in Boston. No team wants to play a Game 7 on the road, no matter how much a talent advantage they might have.
Thus, expect the Cavs to come out extremely motivated to wrap this thing up on Thursday. They are acutely aware that the Warriors are at home resting, watching the Cavs sweat.
Offensively, Cleveland has been on fire this entire postseason, and there is no reason to expect that to change in Game 5. Cleveland is averaging 115.3 points per game and has scored at least 100 points in all 12 of their playoff games. Per NBA.com, they are only the second team in NBA history to score 100+ points in each of their first 12 postseason games. (Who is the other team, you ask? It’s the 2017 Golden State Warriors.) The Cavs were especially efficient in Game 4, shooting a record-tying 59.5 percent from the floor.
There are a couple of other statistical trends working in the Cavs favor. First, a team led by LeBron James has never lost a series in which they’ve held a 3-1 lead (11-0). In addition, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cleveland has won each of its last 12 potential series-clinching playoff games since 2009, matching the longest such streak in NBA history (L.A. Lakers from 2000 to 2004).
If the Cavs advance, it will be the seventh straight Finals appearance for LeBron James, a truly remarkable feat.
Here is the full schedule for the 2017 NBA Finals. (Here’s hoping we get the maximum seven games):
Game 1 – Thu June 1 Boston/Cleveland at Golden State 9:00 PM on ABC
Game 2 – Sun June 4 Boston/Cleveland at Golden State 8:00 PM on ABC
Game 3 – Wed June 7 Golden State at Boston/Cleveland 9:00 PM on ABC
Game 4 – Fri June 9 Golden State at Boston/Cleveland 9:00 PM on ABC
Game 5 * Mon June 12 Boston/Cleveland at Golden State 9:00 PM on ABC
Game 6 * Thu June 15 Golden State at Boston/Cleveland 9:00 PM on ABC
Game 7 * Sun June 18 Boston/Cleveland at Golden State 8:00 PM on ABC