A couple days ago we looked at who had the advantage in the Western Conference Finals. Today we look at who has the advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals. The same nine categories have been listed and broken down, along with a brief summary at the end. So let’s get into it. Who has the advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals? Celtics or Cavs?
After looking at the numbers for both the Celtics and Cavaliers during the postseason, there doesn’t seem to be a clear advantage for either team when it comes to scoring. Boston ranks 8th in points per game during the playoffs, with the Cavs right behind them in 9th. The Celtics are averaging 104.1 points per game, less than one point more than the Cavaliers, who average 103.5 per game. Cleveland has a better field goal percentage, shooting 46.7% to the Celtics 44.6%. Boston averages about three more field goal attempts per game than Cleveland (83.6 to 80.3), but both teams average pretty much the same field goals made. While the Cavs shoot slightly better and the Celtics score slightly more, neither of those numbers significantly outweigh the other.
Three Point Shooting
Boston ranks 8th in three point shooting percentage during the playoffs, while the Cavs rank 12th. Looking at where they rank may give the idea that the Celtics are better at shooting the three, but their three point percentage (36.0%) is less than 1% more than the Cavaliers 35.1%. Their three point makes are almost identical (Celtics 10.9 to Cavs 10.8), along with their attempts (Cavs 30.8 to Celtics 30.3). These numbers are so close together there can’t be an advantage given to either team.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the only team to average less than 20 assists per game to not lose in the first round of the playoffs. It helps when you have LeBron James. LeBron is probably the reason why they don’t average a high amount of assists, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing though. Cleveland averages 19.7 assists per game, with LeBron averaging about half of those. So many times during these playoff games, LeBron is required to take the ball and score himself. Frequently during a game LeBron will pass the ball to his teammates to give them open shots, but when it’s time to make big shots, LeBron takes the ball and lets his greatness take over. When I looked at the Celtics assist numbers during the playoffs, I was a little surprised. They play so well as a team I thought their assist numbers would be higher, but they average 21.2 per game, just 1.5 more than the Cavs. The advantage the Celtics do have is having four players who average 3.2 or more assists. LeBron is the only player on his team averaging more than 2.5 per game. Even though the Celtics have more players who contribute to their assists, LeBron’s assists number can even that all out.
Despite how bad the Cavaliers defense has been at times, they rank 4th in points allowed during the playoffs (102.0), right behind the Rockets and Warriors. Two spots below the Cavs are the Celtics, who average 102.5 points allowed. Pretty much identical numbers in terms of opponent scoring. Boston holds their opponents to a worse field goal percentage (46.7%), but again the Cavs are right there (47.8%). These teams are also right there with each other when it comes to three point percentage allowed (Celtics 34.5% to Cavs 35.8%). Steals per game is another category where these two teams are very close, with the Celtics averaging 6.8 and the Cavs averaging 6.6 per game. In terms of blocks per game, Boston averages more than Cleveland with 4.7 to their 3.8. Slightly higher numbers in most categories for the Celtics, but the Cavs are either within or barely outside of 1% in those categories, so I can’t lean one way or the other.
Cleveland is ranked second to last during the playoffs in rebounds per game with 38.5, while the Celtics rank 9th with 42.5. Boston’s rebound percentage is 49.8% to the Cavs 49.2%. Boston’s defensive rebound percentage is 78.8% to the Cavs 77.2%, but their offensive rebounding percentage is the exact same at 21.7%. Based on these numbers, it might look like Boston has a little advantage, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Cleveland allows 39.7 rebounds per game to their opponents, while the Celtics allow 42.9 rebounds. Boston gets four more rebounds per game than the Cavs on average, but they also allow 3.2 more rebounds than the Cavs do, making the difference in rebounds 0.8.
This one is pretty easy. Both teams have averaged 76.2% from the free throw line during the playoffs. The Celtics average 1.2 more free throw attempts and 1.0 more makes than the Cavs, but really no significant difference at all in this category.
Another category where these two teams are almost the same. Cleveland’s turnovers per game average is 11.5 to the Celtics 11.8. The Celtics assist to turnover ratio is 1.7 to Cleveland’s 1.63, which makes sense since Boston averages more assists than Cleveland. The turnover percentage for Boston is 11.6%, and for Cleveland it’s 11.8%. The difference in turnovers per game is 0.3, assist to turnover ratio is 0.07, and turnover percentage is 0.2%.
Up to this point everything has been even, but this is where it changes. Boston has an All-Star in Al Horford. They have Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier, but I’m not sure if we call them stars yet. At this point I think they’re rising stars. Cleveland has the biggest star of them all in LeBron James. The best player in the NBA can outweigh the star power of an entire team, as we’ve seen through the first two rounds of the playoffs. I’ve never really liked calling Kevin Love a star, but I guess that’s what everyone calls him so we can throw him in here.
Advantage: Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James has been to seven straight NBA Finals and has three NBA championships. Kevin Love has been to three straight NBA Finals and has one NBA championship. Kyle Korver has been to two straight NBA Finals and has one NBA championship. They’ve also got Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, who both have won a championship. The Celtics most experienced player is Al Horford. Their most experienced player in terms of winning a championship is Kyrie Irving, who isn’t even playing.
Advantage: Cleveland Cavaliers
Out of the nine categories listed, the Cavs have the advantage in two of them, with the rest being even. If you want to give the Celtics an advantage we can throw home court in there, but it’s still 2-1 in favor of Cleveland. As you saw throughout each category, there’s not a lot separating these teams. The main factor is LeBron James. Unlike the Warriors and Rockets series, I have made my decision on who I’m picking to win the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m going with the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games. Boston will put up a fight, but LeBron James will be too much for the Celtics to overcome.