Jared Johnson

Basketball Daily Dose

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Dose: King of the East

Monday, May 28, 2018


LeBron James guided his Cavs to a Game 7 win over the Celtics in Boston on Sunday, scoring 35 points on 12-of-24 shooting (8-of-11 from the stripe) to go with three 3-pointers, 15 rebounds, nine assists, two blocks and eight turnovers while playing all 48 minutes. Game 7 marked James’ 100th game of the season, meaning that when all is said and done he will be setting a personal record in total games played in his age-33 season. So, yeah, he looked a bit gassed when he came to collect his eighth consecutive Eastern Conference Finals trophy after the game.

 

 

“I thought it was an outstanding defensive game and LeBron still got 35. He's a joke,” Brad Stevens quipped after the loss. LBJ truly was amazing in the win, which is pretty much par for the course for King James, who has now won six straight Game 7s (6-2) while averaging 34.95 points per game (the highest PPG average in Game 7s in NBA history). He also became just the fourth player ever to average at least 30 points per game in every playoff series leading up to the NBA Finals, and the Cavs became the fifth team to reach the Finals despite being a 4th seeded team. James came out and set the tone with his strong play, racking up 12 of Cleveland’s first 18 points, hauling in 10 boards prior to halftime, and playing some absolute lockdown defense on Jaylen Brown. He affected the game in every aspect, creating 21 FGA off his passes, to go with a game-high 13 open FGA, in addition to defending a game-high 19 FGA while holding his man to just 31.6% shooting.

 

 

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While the Cavs not named LeBron got off to a rough start, connecting on just 9-of-23 shots through the first half of action, James kept his faith in his teammates and Jeff Green came through with a big-time performance sans Kevin Love (concussion). "As much as I was passing in the first half and my guys wasn't knocking them down I believed in the second half they would," James said after the game. "I believed that the Celtics would try to put as many bodies on me, in front of me and invite the pass to my guys and dare my guys to shoot and make. I just kept the faith in them and they did that."

 

Green finished with 19 points (7-of-14 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs), two 3-pointers, eight rebounds, one assist and one block through 42 minutes of floor time, and while he did struggle with his 3-point shot (2-of-9 from distance), he played some solid defense, was effective in transition and did some nice work on the glass. “I’ve worked each day since January 9, 2012, to get back out here and compete for a championship,” said Green after the game, referencing when he had to undergo open-heart surgery. “I almost lost it all and to sit here and talk about being in the NBA Finals, I’m truly blessed... I’m enjoying every single moment of this. I take nothing for granted. Nothing.”

 

Sure, it wasn’t the most impressive offensive showing from The Other Cavs, but Cleveland’s starting five did do a nice job on the defensive end with their 68.4 defensive rating, and Tristan Thompson played some solid defense against Al Horford on his way to 10 points, nine rebounds and one assist over 35 minutes. J.R. Smith accounted for three of Cleveland’s nine 3-point makes (as a team the Cavs shot just 9-of-35 from beyond the arc) and finished with 12 points, four rebounds, one steal, one block and one turnover in 42 minutes. “Oh, man. Four in a row. That’s hard to believe!” said Smith during the Cavs’ trophy presentation; to which Tristan Thompson responded: “That’s some gangster sh—!”

 

While LeBron James will garner a lot of the headlines in making his eighth straight Finals appearance, I believe head coach Tyronn Lue deserves some major props here. He said prior to the game that he watched the Cavs’ regular-season road win over the Celtics (also a game they didn’t have Kevin Love) three times leading up to Game 7 and that he wasn’t afraid to play James all 48 minutes; which is exactly what happened. He used his timeouts wisely to give James strategic rest throughout the game, drew up an excellent game plan, and essentially had to coach three different teams this season in his second consecutive route to the NBA Finals. While I do think that this Cleveland team will get walloped by whoever awaits them on the other side (and I’d bank on that being Golden State), the fact that they got here with the current roster is a seriously impressive feat.

 

Pain is Part of the Path

 

"I talked about the pain is part of the path,” said Brad Stevens after the game. “We’ve been really fortunate to continuously get better the last couple of years and put ourselves in better positions. But when it ends, it’s painful. But that is part of the path, so we have to let it motivate us."

 

This young Celtics team had a remarkable postseason run, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals despite having two of their best players on the bench and carrying over just four players from the previous season, so this is surely a team we’ll be talking about for a very long time.

 

Jayson Tatum wasn’t afraid of the big stage, coming through with 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting (4-of-4 from the line), two 3-pointers, seven rebounds, one steal, one assist and four turnovers before fouling out after 42 minutes of play. He aggressively sought out his shot, did a nice job of disrupting the passing lanes, and didn’t hesitate to attack the rack and finish through contact. He even posterized LeBron James midway through the fourth, saying after the game: "I had to get him back for the two shots he made on me in Cleveland."

 

 

Tatum was simply phenomenal in his first run through the postseason, recording a grand total of 351 points, which fell just two points shy of surpassing the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points scored by a rookie during the NBA playoffs. Through 19 games of playoff action, the 20-year-old compiled averages of 18.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 triples, 1.2 steals and 2.2 turnovers per game on 47.1% shooting from the field and 84.5% from the charity stripe, and Brad Stevens acutely summed up Tatum’s enormous upside after the game saying: "He can get a lot better. That's the fun part.” 

 

Al Horford played really well through the first half of action, getting deep touches in the paint and racking up 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting (2-of-2 from the line) while rocking a 20.4 usage rate heading into halftime, but he was much more passive through the second half of action (12.7 usage rate) as the Celtics seemed to go away from him a bit. Overall, Horford had an okay game with 17 points (7-of-12 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs), four rebounds, three assists, one steal and zero turnovers across 40 minutes, but the second half meltdown did factor into the Celtics' loss.

 

While Horford was not as aggressive as he should have been, Terry Rozier was perhaps a bit overconfident, as his 2-of-14 shooting performance (0-of-10 from 3-point range), ripe with a handful of heat-checkers, did not do the Celtics any favors. Sure, he did have four assists, four rebounds and steal without committing a single turnover, but the horrendous shooting hurt the Celtics spacing and overall rhythm, and two points from your starting point guard just isn’t going to get it done in most scenarios.

 

Jaylen Brown fell victim to some vicious defense from The Chosen One, going 5-of-18 from the field without getting a single trip to the line on his way to 13 points, three 3-pointers (on 12 attempts), six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one turnover in 39 minutes. He did play about as good as anyone could defensively against James, but he also missed quite a bit of wide-open looks from 3-point territory; which may have been a mental/inexperience thing. 

 

So, what happens next year?

 

A question I’ve been floating around to the guys on the staff is: “what happens to this Boston team fantasy-wise when Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward get healthy?” As good as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were through this postseason run, you have to figure that these guys will take a bit of a hit once the All-Stars are healthy. I could see Boston going with a starting lineup of Kyrie Irving-Jaylen Brown-Jayson Tatum-Gordon Hayward-Al Horford next season, so it’ll be tough for Brown and Tatum to see the same amount of opportunity that they had on offense during this year’s playoffs where they rocked a 24.5 and 23.6 usage rate, respectively. Now, Kyrie Irving owned a 30.7 usage rate during his first season with the Celtics and Al Horford rocked an 18.5 usage while Gordon Hayward operated with a 27.6 usage rate during his final season in Utah. These numbers together simply do not add up, so someone is going to need to take a hit and sacrifice some touches. It’s also not a certainty that Tatum or Hayward will be able to establish themselves as full-time fours, which means that Brad Stevens will either need to stagger their minutes or bring one of the younger guys off the bench. I could see a situation where Tatum shifts to the two in order to bring Brown off the bench in a sort of sixth man role, but again, barring a rule change there will only be one ball on the basketball court next season, and there are only so many shots to go around. Irving, Hayward and Horford will eat first, leaving Brown and Tatum to fight for the scraps. Basically, the only Celtic I’ll be interesting in drafting next year will be Irving, and that still comes with concerns due to his injury history. I’m a huge fan of Tatum and Brown, but I’m nervous they’ll be able to replicate their success once the big-money guys are in the fold. As for Horford, he’s solid and doesn’t necessarily need the ball to produce, but in fantasy hoops, I’m not all that keen on big men that don’t block shots (1.1 blocks per game from Horford this past season).



A hoops fanatic, Jared Johnson has been a member of the Rotoworld team since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @JaredJ831, and feel free to send him your questions regarding trades, draft strategies and all things fantasy basketball.
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