Cleveland’s LeBron James vs. Boston’s Paul Pierce: The Celtics defend James as well as anyone, with Pierce guarding him and two, three or even four guys always ready to help. Even that might not be enough to stop the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder, but Pierce will also make James expend some energy at the defensive end.
Cleveland’s Ben Wallace vs. Boston’s Kevin Garnett: Garnett, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, is what Wallace used to be at that end of the floor, but he also possesses tremendous offensive skills and a very strong will. Wallace could end up doing a lot of sitting in this series because he’s non-dimensional offensively.
Cleveland’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs. Boston’s Kendrick Perkins: The Cavaliers will need Ilgauskas more than ever if they are to match the Celtics’ overall offensive firepower. Big Z could also end up defending Garnett if K.G. moves to center. Perkins is a powerful finisher, but he doesn’t figure too heavily in the offense.
Cleveland’s Wally Szczerbiak vs. Boston’s Ray Allen: Szczerbiak, before Friday’s 26-point effort, struggled with his shot and confidence, while Allen thinks every shot he takes is going to go in. The reason for that? They usually do. Boston is one of the few teams in the league that still runs players off screens without the ball, and that fits Allen perfectly.
Cleveland’s Delonte West vs. Boston’s Rajon Rondo: West was decent in Cleveland’s first-round series against Washington and appears to be gaining confidence, but he still tends to shoot a bit too much and at the wrong time. The lightning-quick Rondo is streaky, but if he gets it going, the Cavaliers will be in serious trouble.
Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, Joe Smith, Daniel Gibson and Devin Brown vs. Boston’s James Posey, Leon Powe, P.J. Brown, Glen Davis, Sam Cassell and Tony Allen: The Celtics are so deep a guy like Davis, who hurt the Cavaliers repeatedly in the regular season, is now barely playing. Posey, Brown and Cassell are all playoff veterans. The Cavaliers don’t know what they are going to get from one night to the next.
Cleveland’s Mike Brown vs. Boston’s Doc Rivers: Brown’s done a solid job in the playoffs throughout his three-year stay in Cleveland, but Rivers has been around long enough to know to stick with his big guns for long stretches in the postseason. As much as Brown harps about defense, Rivers’ Celtics are even better when they’re motivated.
The Cavaliers will need a monster series from James and a very, very good one from Ilgauskas just to have a chance to beat Boston, but even that won’t be enough. The Celtics’ three-headed monster of Garnett, Pierce and Allen, not to mention their depth, will simply be too much for Cleveland to overcome.
PREDICTION: Celtics in five
Five reasons why the Cavs will beat the Celtics
No. 1 LeBron James
The best basketball player in the world is capable of doing anything he sets his mind to, which is why the Cavaliers are a very dangerous foe.
No. 2 Winning tradition
The Cavs played in the NBA Finals last season. The Celtics haven’t appeared in the world championship series in 21 years.
No. 3 Post play
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joe Smith, Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao are a better set of big men than Boston has, even with Kevin Garnett in the mix.
No. 4 Inside information
Cleveland guards Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak both played for the Celtics in recent years and are familiar with Boston coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers’ tendencies.
No. 5 Road warriors
The Cavs are a very solid 10-10 in away games since the start of the 2006 playoffs. The league-wide postseason winning percentage on the road is just .340.
Five reasons why the Celtics will beat the Cavs
No. 1 Simply the best
Boston had the NBA’s top record in the regular season at 66-16, and is widely considered the class of the league and a prohibitive title favorite.
No. 2 Home-court domination
TD Banknorth Garden will never have the mystique of the late Boston Garden, but the Celtics were 35-6 there this season, which was the second-best record in the league.
No. 3 The big three
Eastern Conference All-Stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are the best 1-2-3 punch in basketball and the sole reason for Boston’s success.
No. 4 Destiny
The Celtics got a bad break in last year’s draft lottery, but subsequently acquired Garnett and Allen in trades to turn into contenders overnight.
No. 5 Lucky leprechaun
Whether real or not, there is a perception that the NBA, ABC, ESPN, TNT, FBI, DHS and CIA would like nothing more than Boston to win the NBA title. Let the conspiracy theories begin.
— Brian Dulik