BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Celtics have clinched the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers. While both teams are red-hot entering the postseason, Cleveland is certainly favored, as King James looks to earn his first title for his hometown team. In the NBA, especially in the postseason, it’s all about matchups.
Here are the five most critical matchups to look for when the Celtics and Cavs take the hardwood this weekend.READ MORE: More Than 800 Boston City Employees On Leave After Phase 2 Of Vaccine Mandate Unrolls
1. Marcus Smart vs. Kyrie Irving
On one end, you have a score-first point guard who can drop 50 any given night (and drop another 50 the next night), and on the other a defensive-minded rookie who is as tough as they come. Kyrie’s offensive ability will certainly put Smart’s defense to the test, as Irving poses a threat driving to the basket as well as lighting up the perimeter. It will also be interesting to see how Smart defends Kyrie when LeBron brings the ball up the court. Does he help with LeBron driving? Does he stay glued to Kyrie to prevent a three? It is a big test coming up for the rookie point guard.
2. Evan Turner vs. LeBron James
Anyone matched up with LeBron is basically putting in a losing effort. LeBron James in the playoffs is a whole different animal — an animal that averages 28 points, eight rebounds, and four assists in his postseason career. Evan Turner is clearly nowhere near the talent level of LBJ, but Turner quietly has had a nice season for the Celtics, doing a little bit of everything. Turner can prove his worth in this matchup by attacking LeBron offensively to make him work on both ends of the floor and possibly getting him in foul trouble.READ MORE: More Than 451,000 Lose Power As Nor'easter Hits Massachusetts
3. Brandon Bass/ Jonas Jerebko vs. Kevin Love
This one is intriguing. Both Bass and Jerebko would like to stay closer to the block, but on defense they will inevitably have to stay out on the perimeter to defend Love. The power forward has not had an ideal season in Cleveland, struggling to find his niche on a team of big names and big games. This is also Love’s first ever playoff series, so there’s an added incentive for Love to come out and perform. Just like with Turner, the best bet for the Celtics’ big men would be to attack Love on offense and try to draw fouls. Tristan Thompson coming off the bench sounds like a much better assignment for Bass and Jerebko than perennial All-Star Love.
4. Isaiah Thomas vs. J.R. Smith/ Kyrie Irving
Coming off the bench and playing valuable minutes will be Celtics newcomer Isaiah Thomas. The 5-foot-9 energetic guard can take advantage of the less-than-stellar defense coming from the Cleveland backcourt. Smith certainly didn’t play much defense during his tenure with the Knicks, and that hasn’t changed much since joining Cleveland. Kyrie Irving also isn’t known for his defensive prowess, so the Celtics should exploit this matchup as much as possible throughout the series. If Avery Bradley can provide scoring on offense, the Cleveland guards will have their hands full to say the least.
5. Brad Stevens vs. David BlattMORE NEWS: Clean Up Efforts Could Take Days With Trees And Power Lines On Cape Cod
This will be the first NBA playoff series for both coaches, yet one is expected to win a title and the other wasn’t expected to even be here. Brad Stevens wasn’t into the whole “tanking for a better draft pick” idea, and his team is playing with great focus and camaraderie heading into this weekend. It will be interesting to see what combination of guards Stevens goes with between Thomas, Smart, and Bradley but also how he tackles the near-impossible challenge of stopping LeBron. Does he let LeBron take over and shut off the rest of the Cavs? Does he have all five guys help on the King? And for Blatt, he needs to keep his team’s momentum going through the first round and the feisty Celtics. It’s Irving and Love’s first postseason, it’s LeBron first being back with Cleveland, and as usual the pressure is through the roof. Can Blatt lead this team to the promised land? Can Stevens pull off an improbable upset?