Celtics embrace underdog role against Cavaliers

Rockets have last best chance to put stop to Warriors dynasty

Modal Trigger James Harden and Kevin Durant Getty Images AP

Actually, let's take that one step further - Boston will beat Cleveland.

The Cavaliers' journey hasn't been almost as improbable because LeBron James has remained the one constant, but they've undergone significant changes throughout the season as well.

Cleveland overhauled their team mid-season and Boston lost former Cavs star Kyrie Irving to a season-ending injury.

The shakeup sort of helped, but let's also remember the new-look Cavs were almost eliminated in the first round by Indiana. So we can talk from like potential, but he's been out since the first quarter of Game 1 in Cleveland. The Rockets went out and got Chris Paul, with hopes of being the team that ends Golden State's three-year stranglehold on the Western Conference crown. In order to advance to the Finals, the Celtics will need to prove they can win on the road, as they have only won one match-up on the road this post-season.

However, individual stat lines isn't how guarding James should be judged.

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"What excites me the most is probably that this is what we dreamed of", he said Saturday. Preventing second-chance opportunities for the Cavaliers will be vital for the Celtics' success as giving James another chance to score will put the team at a disadvantage. He and the Cavs swept IN 4-0 IN last year's playoffs which led to George leaving the team, and kicked off this postseason with a tough, 4-3 win over the rebuilt IN team, which was mostly a showing of how James can win series without any help from his teammates. But that was Brown's rookie season and the springy 21-year-old who is known for his learning ability has taken huge leaps in both skill and confidence since then.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington, left, and Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris, right, vie for the ball. He also ranks only 75th in defensive win shares.

The damage James did to the Big 3 or Big 4 era is why Boston is on the list.

If the Celtics are going to keep their incredible ride going, they are going to have to do something about the dominant James, and it won't be in the hands of just one defender. James is at his most unsafe when he's using his entire tool set to beat an opponent. Not only are the Cavs 1.5-point road favorites, but nearly all of the early money is on LeBron and Co.to cover the spread, according to the Action Network. The Celtics are 13-3 ATS in their last 16 home games, 2-5 ATS in their last 7 Conference Finals games and 23-9 ATS in their last 32 games overall.

James has averaged 30.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists while going 8-9 on Boston parquet's hardwood.

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"Who can guard James?" is a big question, but perhaps even bigger is "Who can Kyle Korver guard?"

They needed seven games to dispose of the Indiana Pacers and then rampaged through the Raptors in four straight. "It's nothing against the defense", said Terry Rozier. Both sides have endured turbulent seasons since they last met in May, but the new-look Cavaliers aren't looking past the injury-plagued Celtics to the NBA Finals. Love was great against Toronto, averaging 20.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

Key Matchup: Boston's Al Horford vs. Cleveland's Kevin Love. A year later, the Celtics produced a career defining moment from James, who channeled his best with the Heat down 2-3 in the series, en route to winning his first National Basketball Association championship.

Win or lose, it's pretty obvious after watching the Celtics teach the 76ers a lesson that "the progress" trumps "the process". That Brad Stevens guy can also coach a bit.

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