After Game 5, a bunch of casual fans wanted to talk to me about this series. And they mostly wanted to know one thing: What’s wrong with LeBron’s elbow?
If LeBron’s injury is serious, it certainly effects everything about the Cavaliers. But that effect is impossible to quantify at this point.
Here’s what I do know for sure: the Celtics have a 3-2 lead in this series because they’ve done one thing we’ve expected all season and some things we, frankly, had little right to expect. Can enough of these trends hold up for one more game?
The C’s have held the Cavaliers below the 1 point per possession mark (or, if you like, 100 points per 100 possessions) in all three games Boston has won in this series, according to stats provided by ESPN researchers. The Cavaliers scored the equivalent of 91 points per 100 possessions in Games 2 and 4 and 97 points per 100 possessions in Game 5.
How good is that?
The Nets had the worst offense in the league this season. They averaged about 100.6 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference. The Cavaliers averaged just over 111 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, the 6th-best mark in the league. The Cavs have hit that number just once in this series—in their Game 3 destruction of Boston. Otherwise, the C’s have held Cleveland to a below-average output on offense.
This is, frankly, what we’ve been waiting to see from Boston for the last two months, as their defensive ranking gradually dropped from 1st all the way down to 5th over the last 30 games of the season.
The Celtics defense is, it appears, back. Ask Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, who averaged about 32 points combined on 46 percent shooting for the Cavaliers in the regular season. That’s down to about 24 points per game in this series on 44 percent shooting, with Williams hitting just 39.6 percent from the floor so far.
And Mo has hit just 3-of-15 three-pointers through five games. The Cavs as a whole have hit just 27 percent of their threes, down from 38 percent in the regular season—the 2nd-best mark in the league.
Can the C’s pull this off one more time?
• How’s this for something new: The C’s are only turning the ball over 12.8 times per game in this series. They averaged about 15 turnovers per game in the regular season—or a turnover on 14.5 percent of their possessions, the 4th-worst mark in the league. That turnover rate is down to 13.3 percent against the Cavs, a league-average mark.
And the Cavs? They’re coughing it up 14.4 times per game, which works out to a turnover on about 15.8 percent of Cleveland possessions. That would have been the worst mark in the league in the regular season.
The Boston Celtics—the freaking Boston Celtics—are winning the turnover battle.
• They’ve also returned to being an elite defensive rebounding team. The Cavs are averaging just 7.5 offensive boards per game, a mark that would also have ranked dead last in the NBA in the regular season. That holds up when you shift into advanced stats mode, too. The C’s have rebounded about 80 percent of Cleveland misses in this series. 80 percent!
Do you realize how good that is? The Magic led the league in defensive rebounding this season—and they hauled in 77.4 percent of opponent misses. Boston, meanwhile, hovered around the league average defensive rebounding rate all season.
The Cavs ranked in the bottom-third of the league in offensive rebounding, so Boston is merely doing it’s job. But it’s a job they didn’t do against Cleveland in the regular season—or at least against Anderson Varejao, who averaged 4.3 offensive boards per game against Boston by himself this season.
He has 9 offensive rebounds in this series.
Can enough of these trends hold up in Game 6? We only have to wait a few more hours to find out.