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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Are the Celtics a Threat to the Cavs?

Are the Celtics a Threat to the Cavs?
Are the Celtics a Threat to the Cavs?

Competition is always a lovely thing. It is the fire that drives players to succeed and it keeps the spectators happy. Competitive fuel is the greatest thing to watch; competitive fuel without respect though, is the worst thing to react to. J.R. Smith, the backup shooting guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, recently came out and said that “[he doesn’t] think they really pose a big threat to us,” referring to the Boston Celtics. Last year’s number one seed is not a threat to you? Let us break down how foolhardy this statement truly is.

The Cleveland Cavaliers came out last year as the clear favorite to get the number one seed in the East. The Boston Celtics swooped in and grabbed that prize and even gave themselves a three-game berth between themselves and the Cavaliers. The issue with Smith’s comments is that they are not backed by empirical fact; in fact, every stat says otherwise. Among offense, defense, and coaching, the Cavaliers lose.

Offensively, the Cavaliers have the Celtics beat. Admittedly, any team that has Lebron James as its focal point are bound to be in the top-five offenses in the league. Put James and Kyrie Irving together, an offensive rating of 113.6 is expected (third best in the league, trailing only the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets). But something interesting appears there. James on his own causes a huge issue on offense, but it was Irving who boosted the rating last year. Irving pitched in 25.2 points per game while lifting the heavier load during the fourth quarter. To also prove he was not putting up empty numbers, his VORP was also the second highest on the team at 2.9. Actually, he was second for Offensive Box Plus/Minus, Win Shares, Offensive Win Shares, and every other major advanced metric in basketball not pertaining to defense.

Why is this significant and why do I talk about Irving so much? Well, he’s on the Celtics now. The Cavaliers’ second-best offensive player left with no one to take his spot. Even though the Cavaliers had the Celtics beat last year in Offensive Rating, it will certainly not be the same without their second-best player. One can also make the same argument with Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics, but as he is severely injured until the All Star weekend, it is a nonissue.

Defense wins championships, right? The Boston Celtics boasted a decent thirteenth in Defensive Rating. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, mustered a measly twenty-first in Defensive Rating, which put them near the likes of the Orlando Magic and the Brooklyn Nets. Disastrous to say the least. The Cavaliers got better on the wing with the addition of Jae Crowder, but also regressed with additions of Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, and Dwyane Wade. Rose only uses his athleticism on the offensive side with no care for the defensive. Thomas is well known for being a black hole on defense. Wade is the only person one can truly make an argument for, but even he is no longer able to guard the faster and younger players, as Father Time is undefeated. The Celtics win this category with ease.

The stats above do make it seem like we are splitting hairs and making judgements based upon assumptions. Here comes the stat that can’t be quantified but is really the defining factor between the two teams. Tyronne Lue runs plays through two players with minimal to no movement. Often, James would bring the ball up, hand the ball off to Irving, and then a series of screens would happen to get Irving and James their shots. That’s the most complex play in his playbook.

The issue is that the most commonly used play is the patented Lue freak out play, which is “give James the ball and move out.” This play works because James is that amazing, but it shows the harsh limits to Lue’s coaching. He has Kyle Korver, the NBA record holder for the highest three-point percentage with 53.6 percent, and never runs one Floppy play for him. It’s ridiculous. Brad Stevens, on the other hand, is a genius. He consistently runs Horns, a type of play where the big men get the ball high post to pass around, giving off screens to get his shooters open. This is the reason Al Horford led all centers in assists last year with five.

For Smith to consider the Boston Celtics a pushover team is quite funny. As a team, the Celtics do not lack in anything. Offensively more consistent, defensively smarter, better coached by a mile, the Celtics have a clear advantage. One can always argue the James factor, but not a threat? Forget that we are the only team that had a winning record against the Golden State Warriors in the past two years, we can beat the Cavaliers. The Boston Celtics can not only be considered a threat, but a clear favorite as well.