The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics are just one win away from setting up a rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite losing Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to injuries, the Boston Celtics have defied the odds by putting a beating on the young and talented Philadelphia 76ers. The key to the series has been Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens who was masterfully utilized whatever is left of his roster.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers have surprised the East’s top seeded Toronto Raptors behind the brilliance of LeBron James. James is by far having the best postseason of any player in the league and he has single-handedly carried his team on his broad shoulders.
The difference tonight is that while Boston tries to close out their series on the road in Philadelphia, the Cavs try to do the same at home. Will both advance to the next round? Or will one of them be stalled? Check out the odds, our preview and picks for the games on May 7, 2018.
Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers, Game 4
Odds: Celtics +225, Sixers – 275
The Philadelphia 76ers are facing elimination for the first time in these playoffs and if they want to extend the series, they need to have a big game from Ben Simmons.
Simmons has been a super rookie all-season long. But after an impressive first round series against the Miami Heat, he has struggled against the Celtics all-series long. After averaging 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists in Round 1, Simmons’ number is down to 11.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game in the second round.
For the Sixers to have a shot at winning Game 4, Simmons needs to get his game together because while Joel Embiid is their main man, everything begins with Ben Simmons. Based on his Game 3 performance, Simmons seems to have gotten his bearings back, well except for the crucial turnovers that cost them the game. But given his IQ, you’d expect him to be ready for Game 4.
Joel Embiid has averaged 24.3 points and 15.3 rebounds in the series but has not shot the ball well both from the field and from the free throw line. Embiid is taking an average of 4 three point shots per game but has made just 25% of them against the Celtics. The big man must force his way inside the paint inside of taking outside shots because no one in Boston can defend him.
Despite playing without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics have turned to ‘scoring by committee’ to manufacture wins in the postseason. Credit goes to coach Brad Stevens for making the right moves so far.
Back-up point guard Terry Rozier leads Boston in scoring at 19.0 points per game although if you look up his numbers, he plays better in Boston rather than away. Jayson Tatum has scored at least 20 points per game in the last five games and Boston has been 4-1 in those games.
The return of Marcus Smart has bolstered the Celtics’ campaign. Although Smart is averaging just 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, his defensive intensity has inspired his teammates.
But the main reason why Boston is up 3-0 in this series has been Al Horford. Horford has made the big plays for Boston in this series and if the Sixers need to stop somebody from Boston, it’s Al Horford. Horford has proven to be steady in close games so if Game 4 comes to that, they must let the other Celtics take the big shots and beat them.
It’s not that the Celtics have been dominant in this series. The Sixers led by 22 in Game 2 before the Celtics rallied back and were ahead 94-89, late in Game 2 only to collapse in the closing moments. The Sixers have the better players and used to be the better team. Remember they won 20 out of 21 games before this series.
Nobody has gotten out of that 0-3 hole before but the Sixers certainly still have plenty of spunk left. They are playing at home and even if they may not play here again, they want to leave a good impression on their fans.
Redick is coming off his lowest scoring game in the last five outings. He’s due to explode. Simmons wants to prove his worth in this series and Embiid wants to atone for Game 3. We’re picking the Sixers to finally win one, for their hometown crowd.
Toronto Raptors at Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 4
Odds: Raptors +180, Cavaliers -220
The Cleveland Cavaliers have turned their postseason around 360 degrees. After struggling to put away the Indiana Pacers in 7 games in round one, they have dominated the Eastern Conference’s top seeded Toronto Raptors.
The secret to Cleveland’s success is no secret – LeBron James. King James is having his best postseason in years, maybe his best ever. He’s averaging 34.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game for the Cavs. James’ 348 points thru 10 playoff games this year are the most since Michael Jordan’s 354 in 1992.
The concern on James though is that he’s played too many minutes this season. James played all 82 games in the regular season and is averaging 41.7 minutes per game in the playoffs. At age 33 and in season 26, that doesn’t sound good. But he’s the King and so far, he’s not shown any signs of slowing down.
Kevin Love has found his all-star self in the last two games after struggling the entire season and at the start of the playoffs. Love has averaged 26 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in the last two games while shooting 51.4% from the floor. If Love keeps up this pace, the Cavs will be harder to beat.
One of the main reasons why the Cavs have been dominant in the series has been Kyle Korver. The sharpshooting guard is averaging 14 points per game in round 2 after just 8.3 points per game in the previous series. Korver has made 50% of his three pointers in the series and was particularly hot at 4-6 in Game 3, which was also played in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan needs to get back on track if the Raptors want to extend this to a Game 5. DeRozan shot just 3-12 and scored 8 points in Game 3. He also sat out the entire 4th quarter when the Raptors made a run. With all due respect to coach Dayne Casey, he must put DeRozan in the fourth quarter even if he’s 0-50. The guy is the team’s best player and their best shot at beating the Cavs.
DeRozan is averaging 23.8 points per game in the playoffs although he is scoring just 18.0 points per game against Boston. Game 3 was his worst game of the playoffs and if Casey gives him enough time, he’ll have a big Game 4 that’s for sure.
Kyle Lowry was brilliant in Game 3 as he almost single-handedly carried the Raptors back in the game. Lowry is shooting the ball at 62.9% in this series and if the Raptors want to take the series back to Toronto, he must be able to compliment DeRozan in Game 4.
Unlike the Celtics vs Sixers series, this has been pretty much one-sided. And it has been so because of one reason: LeBron James. With James playing fantastic basketball in this series, his teammates have fed off him. Cleveland has all sorts of momentum here and with this game played in Cleveland, that spells all the difference.
The Raptors could not stop King James in Toronto. There’s no reason they can stop him at his home. James knows that there is nobody on the opposing side who can guard him. He’s going to take it to the basket all night long and kill Toronto with points in the paint.
They say LeBron owns the Raptors in the playoffs and sad to say, that is correct. Toronto won’t go down without a fight. But the King has been too much for the Raptors. Give me another outstanding game from King James and the Cavs will win Game 4 and advance to the next round.