After the Boston Celtics started the Eastern Conference Finals with an impressive 2-0 start, the Cleveland Cavaliers have responded in kind in a blow-for-blow slugfest, in which the home team has won in convincingly impressive fashion. In Game 6, where the Cavaliers faced elimination, LeBron James rose to the occasion and delivered an impressive 41-point, 16-rebound, 9-assist performance that gave Cleveland life, for at least one more game.
The Celtics have struggled mightily on the rebounding end in their losses. Even with Kevin Love's untimely injury, the Cavaliers had their way on second-chance points in Game 6. Cleveland's offensive rebounds and putbacks cost Boston valuable momentum on multiple occasions, putting an unwelcome dent into what could have been a tight defensive possession. Simply put, the Celtics need to rebound better, if they are to win the series.
Aron Baynes, who has averaged 6.3 rebounds over the Eastern Conference Finals so far, might be an important factor on limiting Cleveland's chances for victory, when Game 7 rolls around tomorrow in Boston. He has done very well in limiting Cleveland's Tristan Thompson's rebounding opportunities, and provided a tough rebounding edge the Celtics have sorely lacked.
Baynes did not play significant minutes in the second half of Game 6, as the Celtics shifted its focus to scoring, and had four rebounds, two assists that night. The Australian big man was part of a starting lineup that helped secure an early 5-point lead in the first quarter, and played a huge role in the Celtics' Game 5 win at home.
“(Rebounding) was a big part of our film emphasis,” Stevens confirmed, according to The Athletic's Jay King.
“It’s always critical. I’ve said all along, like we can go through each and every play in the half court on both ends of the floor and see the little things that maybe we can do a little bit better, but it all feels a lot better if we get back on [defence] and only hold them to one shot. You know, in the games that we’ve lost, one of those two areas has not been pretty, and so that’s where we have to be better, and we have to be great in both those areas (in Game 7). We’ve got to get back, set our defence, we’ve got to hold them to one shot, and it’s easier said than done.”
Having said that, it's still uncertain if the Celtics would start the game with two big men in Al Horford and Aron Baynes, given Kevin Love's absence.
Kevin Love, who has been declared unfit for the coming Game 7 due to a head-on collision with Jayson Tatum in Game 6, signals a shift in the Cavaliers' lineup. Deprived of a capable big man in Love, they would likely look at playing a smaller and quicker lineup featuring Jeff Green, who contributed 14 points in the last game.
Boston Celtics head coach, Brad Stevens, has not confirmed his changes for Game 7's roster, only saying that the team has to be prepared, regardless of what happens.
“I think, first of all, I’ve seen it reported both ways, that that’ll still be decided and then he’s out, but regardless, we’ll have to prepare our team to play well regardless of who’s on the floor for them,” Stevens said in a recent conference call. “That changes how they — some of the things they run offensively.
“Obviously they have a package of Love plays that they go to on offence, so if they end up doing more stuff with LeBron, I thought [George] Hill and [Jordan] Clarkson were good off pick-and-rolls last night, I thought that Jeff Green was really good, and I thought that they continued to have all of the different little wrinkles for [Kyle] Korver and [JR] Smith coming off the screens.
“You know, you just — obviously they run a little bit less of the Love stuff and more of the other stuff, and then on the other end of the court, I thought that their — they switched — they continued to switch, trap, scram out of the post, kind of use that versatility all around the court, and did a good job."
Cleveland's head coach, Tyronn Lue, is not ready for excuses.
“Man, c’mon. We ain’t got no choice,” he said. “One game from the Finals? Game 7? I mean, I can get out there and so something for that. Got to be ready. Ready to play. No excuses. Game 7 to go to the NBA Finals. We’ve got to be ready.”
It's easy to say that the home team will take Game 7, but LeBron James, who has won all five of the elimination games he has played in, will not be going down easy.
“You’ve got to be poised. You’ve got to be able to handle a punch or two,” James said. “And you’ve got to be able to combat that and be just as solid and just as aggressive on the offensive end. We know it’s challenging. They’re 10-0 on their home floor, and they’ve been very successful against us, obviously, at home. But if you love challenges, then this is a great opportunity.”
Will we have an Australian back in the NBA Finals this year? It's all going down in Game 7.
Aron Baynes' Boston Celtics play the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow in Game 7 on Monday 28 May 2018, 1030hrs AEST.