Five keys to victory
1. Make it a game or make it a blowout -- The Celtics spent most of the season routing teams, especially on their home floor. They beat the Hawks by an average of 25 points at home in the first round. The Cavs, meanwhile, played close games the entire season. They were actually outscored by their opponents over the 82 games, yet still were eight games over .500. The Celtics did not respond well in the close games in the Hawks series and there is a question as to whether their players are conditioned after taking so many fourth quarters off. The objectives for each team seem simple.
2. Handle the pressure -- The Celtics are one of the most physical defensive teams in recent NBA history. They overplay the perimeter and apply lots of extra pressure to the opposition's ball handlers. The Cavs have not handled this well at times in the past, especially on the road as Delonte West and Daniel Gibson have been inconsistent. For the Celtics, they are expected to win and easily. The tigher the Cavs play them the more they will battle not just the opponent but the lofty expectations of a very intense local and national fanbase.
3. Beware the backside -- Both the Cavs and Celtics have similar defensive styles. They play shrink the floor defense, where they will bring lots of help to the side of the floor where the ball is. For the Cavs, this means where LeBron James is. For the Celtics, this is where Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are. This will give chances for Ray Allen and James Posey and Gibson, West and Wally Szczerbiak to have open shots. Which team takes advantage will have an edge.
4. Big 3 or Super 1 -- In just five years in the NBA, James as more playoff series victories than Garnett, Allen or Pierce. He's been a much better clutch performer and he's dominated in crunch time. Combined, the Celtics powerful trio just put together an amazing 66-win season but they have yet to show they can get it done in the postseason and their opening series against the Hawks was shaky. The Celtics have the talent advantage, but the Cavs have the best player. Which will be the difference-maker?
5. Doing it on the road -- The Celtics were the best road team in the NBA this season but they were 0-2 in Cleveland 0-3 in Atlanta in the first round. The Cavs were in the middle of the pack on the road during the regular season and lost twice in Boston. But they have won 10 times on the road in the playoffs over the last three years. Whichever team can score a road victory will have a huge edge in the series.
Delonte West 6-3, 180, 4th season Postseason: 10.2 ppg, 5.0 apg vs. Celtics: 20.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg Comment: Former Celtic who was well-liked but injury prone in Boston. Has been inconsistent since he's been a starter with the Cavs which showed in the Wizards series. Big challenge will be to keep Celtics guards in front of him. Shot 50 percent on 3-pointers against Washington.
Rajon Rondo 6-1, 170, 2nd season Postseason 11.6 ppg, 7.3 apg vs. Cavs: 10.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.3 apg Comment: Developed a great deal this season and is a excellent distributor. Against the Hawks he had 51 assists and just seven turnovers. Will pressure the ball on defense. Not a strong jump shooter. Edge: Celtics
Wally Szczerbiak 6-7, 245, 9th season Postseason: 10.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg vs. Celtics: 12.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg Comment: Has been in a shooting slump since coming to the Cavs, though he may have had a breakout game with 26 points in Game 6 vs. Wizards. Big challenge for him will be keeping up with Allen as he crosses the court and gets screens for 3-pointers.
Ray Allen 6-5, 205, 12th season Postseason: 16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg vs. Cavs: 23.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg Comment: Shot just 42 percent vs. the Hawks and was spotty with his production. He is a serious threat against the Cavs because he often operates on the backside of the defense where the Cavs will often gamble and leave him. Edge: Celtics
LeBron James 6-8, 250, fifth season Postseason: 29.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 7.7 apg vs. Celtics: 32.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 9.7 apg Comments: He has thrived against the Celtics in the recent past, especially when playing at home. His challenge will be to react properly to the double teams and look to make the correct passes as the Celtics will try to bait him into turnovers. Will be challenged defensively guarding either Pierce or Allen.
Paul Pierce 6-7, 235, 10th season Postseason: 18.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.7 apg vs. Cavs: 13.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.0 apg Comment: Dynamic scorer who can run very hot and cold from the field. He will often settle for jumpers but is very skilled at creating his own shot and getting inside and drawing fouls when he feels like it. He sometimes gets personally involved in rivalry with James. Edge: Cavs
Power forwards Ben Wallace 6-9, 240, 12th season Postseason: 3.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg vs. Celtics: 6.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg Comment: With his back healthy, Wallace seems to be jumping several inches higher and being more active on both ends over the last two weeks. His challenge will be to deal with Garnett when he leaves the post area and pulls him from the basket and keeping him off the boards.
Kevin Garnett 6-11, 220, 13th season Postseason: 21.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.9 apg vs. Cavs: 15.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.3 apg Comment: Has been the emotional leader of the team and plays the role well. Is the defensive captain and will often run the offense from the post on offense. He will look to set up other teammates first but can score from anywhere on the floor and is long enough and quick enough to impact numerous plays at the defensive end.
Edge: Celtics Centers Zydrunas Ilgauskas 7-3, 260, 10th season Postseason: 14.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg vs. Celtics: 14.0 ppg, 12.5 rpg Comment: Has been very solid in the postseason over the last few years because he's difficult to guard and is an excellent offensive rebounder. His challenge will not be to allow Perkins easy baskets and putbacks on the weakside, where he thrives opposite Garnett.
Kendrick Perkins 6-10, 265, 5th season Postseason: 7.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg vs. Cavs: 8.8 rpg, 4.5 rpg Comment: Has improved but is still the weak link for Boston in the starting lineup. He's foul prone and get out of position too much. However he's a developing shot blocker and often benefits from having little attention paid to him. Edge: Cavs.
Cavs: G Devin Brown, G Daniel Gibson, F/C Anderson Varejao, F Joe Smith, G Sasha Pavlovic. Comment: Smith and Gibson both played excellent minutes against the Wizards with Gibson showing his best shooting touch. Varejao rebounded well but both he and Brown suffered at the offensive end. Pavlovic is just coming back from injury and his minutes may be limited.
Celtics: F James Posey, G Sam Cassell, F/C P.J. Brown F Leon Powe, G Eddie House, F Glen Davis, G Tony Allen. Comment: Posey is a strong defender and good 3-pointer shooter and Cassell is veteran leader. Powe and Davis are energy players who can change the game. House is a gunner who has a history of success against the Cavs. Edge: Celtics Coaches Cavs: Mike Brown, third season, 145-101 regular season, 23-16 postseason. Comment: He is one of the best defensive coaches in the NBA and is in the second round for the eighth consecutive season as a coach. He's got a 5-2 series record as the Cavs' head man and has shown he can make excellent adjustments between games in a series. Celtics: Doc River, seventh season, 339-328 regular season, 12-17 postseason. Comment: He's a good motivator who has successfully developed a deep and sound rotation that maximizes his team's talents during the season. However, he's only won one playoff series and his moves in close games against the Hawks did not pay off. Edge: Cavs.