The Celtics headed into Game 6 needing just a solitary win to advance to the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, LeBron James refused to let that happen and forced the series to a decider with yet another extraordinary performance.
After Kevin Love went down with a concussion in the first quarter, LeBron put the Cavs on his back as he scored 46 points, grabbed 11 boards, dished out nine assists, and contributed three steals and a block. With some much-needed help from George Hill, among others, he was able to lead his side to a 109-99 victory, and send the series back to Boston for Game 7.
Three keys to the game
Love’s injury – Love is the Cavs second best player, and the confirmation he will miss Game 7 is a big blow. LeBron will need to take it up yet another notch, if possible, but perhaps more importantly, the Cavs’ second-tier stars will need a lift. The likes of Hill, Kyle Korver, JR Smith and Tristan Thompson will all need to contribute if Cleveland want to make it to the Finals.
Home court advantage – This has been a fairly significant factor so far this series, and throughout the entire playoffs for the Celtics. All six games during the series have been won by the home side, and Boston, who went 27-14 at home during the regular season, are 10-0 at TD Garden during the playoffs.
Second chance opportunities – This was one of the main reasons the Cavs won Game 6. Boston shot better from the floor and better from beyond the arc, but Cleveland had 15 offensive rebounds, which contributed to them having an extra 13 shots than their opponent.
Matchup to watch
LeBron James vs Marcus Morris – As it has been every game this series, the most important matchup will be between LeBron and whoever is guarding him at the Cavs offensive end of the floor. Oftentimes this will be Morris, but it will take their entire team to slow him down. They need not stop LeBron – that isn’t a realistic goal – but if he puts up 46 points and nine assists again, then it will be difficult for the Celtics to win. LeBron will most likely play close to every minute of this matchup, so Boston will need to be wary of him for nearly all 48 minutes of the game.
Boston Celtics predicted starting lineup
PG – Terry Rozier | SG – Jaylen Brown | SF – Jayson Tatum | PF – Al Horford | C – Aron Baynes
Cleveland Cavaliers predicted starting lineup
PG – George Hill | SG – Kyle Korver | SF – JR Smith | PF – LeBron James | C – Tristan Thompson
LeBron will dominate the box score as usual, and given his propensity to lift it up a notch when faced with elimination, it wouldn’t surprise to see another 40+ point game here. His main enemy might be fatigue given the load he has carried throughout the playoffs, but judging by Friday’s performance, he isn’t feeling too bad.
Brown has also come into some terrific form this series, and on Friday he put in one of his best games yet. He scored 27 points on 11-for-18 shooting, going to the rack with authority and showcasing his ability to score in a variety of ways. For the series, he is now averaging 20.8 points per game.
The over/under points total has been set at a relatively low 199.5 points, but the under is still a solid bet. Both teams will be nervous, and a slow start should be expected. From there, expect defense to be at a premium and both sides to be held under 100 points.
This will go down to the wire. All signs point to a Celtics win; they are the better overall team, they are better coached, and they haven’t yet lost a game on their home floor during the playoffs.
They do not, however, have the best player, and not by a long way. LeBron has shown such an extraordinary ability to will his side to victory for such a long time, and these playoffs are close to his best yet. Behind a 40 points, ten assist game from him, the Cavs will sneak over the line to make their fourth consecutive NBA Finals with a 98-95 win.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 8:30pm ET.
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