The Celtics have been exposed thanks to the Atlanta Hawks. The same Hawks that won 37 games in the regular season – that would’ve been good for 12th place in the Western Conference – pushed the 66-win Boston Celtics to the brink of elimination in round one of the 2008 NBA playoffs. In doing so, they exposed what could prove to be a fatal flaw for Boston – the inability to win close games.
The Celtics had a dominant regular season, posting a league-high average scoring margin of +10.3. Second place Detroit had a scoring margin of just +7.4. So what does that scoring margin tell us about Boston? Essentially it means the Celtics won a lot of blowouts, and they did.
Only 20 of their regular season games were decided by five points or less. But they struggled in those games. In fact, after losing two close ones to Atlanta in the first round, Boston is just 11-11 this season in games decided by five points or less, including a mark of 5-8 against playoff teams.
All of this is music to the ears of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The defending Eastern Conference Champions and second round opponent of Boston is much more comfortable in crunch time. Cleveland’s regular season games were decided by five points or less 41 percent of the time. The Cavs had a record of 22-12 in those games. That’s much better than their mark of 23-25 when the game was decided by six or more.
Throughout the course of the year, the Cavs beat a total of16 teams in a close game, and they went 13-6 in games decided by five or less versus playoff competition.
The good news for Boston is that they won each home game against Atlanta by at least 19 points, including a 99-65 drubbing in Game 7. And the Celtics have home court advantage again against Cleveland. Boston won both home games versus Cleveland in the regular season.
The bad news for Boston is that they lost all three road games against Atlanta. They also dropped both games on the road at Cleveland this year.
Worse for the Celtics, the average margin of victory in the four regular season games was just 5.25 points. The Celtics won by 10 and five. The Cavs won by five and one.
The Celtics don’t know who their go-to guy is down the stretch. Kevin Garnett is their MVP. Ray Allen is their best shooter. And Paul Pierce is the career Celtic and most versatile scorer. Yet none stepped up in the close games with the Hawks.
The Celtics also had no crunch time answer defensively for Joe Johnson. Now they square off against one of the top closers in the league in LeBron James. That spells danger for the Celtics, and that’s why I’m taking the Cavaliers to win the series and score the upset in seven games.
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