Many people expected the Celtics and Cavaliers to meet up in the Eastern Conference Finals this season, but both of these teams look extremely different than they did in October. Boston lost their top two players to season-ending injuries, and Cleveland traded nearly half their roster in February. Nonetheless, Brad Stevens will need to concoct a plan to defend LeBron James, which is something he’s probably been thinking about since the Cavs ended the Celtics’ season in five games during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Luckily, Danny Ainge has done a great job of supplying the Celtics with a strong crop of wing defenders for this very occasion.

While no one can stop LeBron, Boston can match up with him as well as any team not named the Warriors.

Marcus Morris

If you simply look at the measurables, Marcus Morris (6’ 9” and 235 pounds) is probably the Celtics’ best matchup for LeBron. He hasn’t been in the starting lineup yet this postseason, but Stevens may be forced to start him at the four to defend James. Morris began the game guarding LeBron in the most recent matchup between these two teams back in February, and I’d expect him to defend The King for the majority of this series.

Jaylen Brown

Now that Jaylen Brown is healthy, I think he will get an opportunity to defend LeBron. Brown hurt his hamstring earlier in the postseason, but he looked close to 100 percent by the end of the series against the Sixers and he’ll have some more time to rest before the beginning of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Brown’s frame is slight, but he has the length to contest those fadeaway jumpers that LeBron tortured Toronto with in the second round. Brown ranked fifth among shooting guards in defensive real plus-minus this season, and he has the type of mentality to accept the challenge, as he’s excelled in each of the last two postseasons.

Semi Ojeleye

At 6’ 7” and 241 pounds, Semi Ojeleye is another strong body that can stand a chance matching up with LeBron. However, he doesn’t provide any spark on the offensive end, and the Celtics probably can’t afford to give him many minutes in this series.

Al Horford

Al Horford would be an interesting answer to the LeBron problem as he performed well defending Ben Simmons during parts of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

However, he’ll probably be matched up with Kevin Love, who started to look like an All-Star again during the Raptors series. Horford will be incredibly valuable as a help defender in this series, as he is a master of positional defense.

Jayson Tatum

Jayson Tatum also saw a lot of Ben Simmons in the previous playoff series, and he’ll be another long, versatile wing defender to throw at LeBron. He'll probably be relied on more on the offensive end in this series, but he's been an outstanding defender for a rookie.

Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart is four inches shorter than James, but he’s still one of the Celtics’ best wing defenders and he will certainly lobby for some minutes guarding LeBron. Smart could also use some of the same tactics Lance Stephenson has used to frustrate James over the years against the Pacers, but Smart is an even better defender than Stephenson.


The moral of the story is Brad Stevens has plenty of options at his disposal in this series. That’s exactly what you need against LeBron because there will never be one person capable of staying in front of him for 48 minutes a night.

I think Marcus Morris will be the Celtics’ best one-on-one option, but Brown and Tatum will certainly get their chance, and Semi Ojeleye will be asked to face-guard Lebron for short spurts. However, I’d love to see Stevens get creative and throw Horford or Smart at LeBron for a few minutes a game.

Having so many solid wing defenders allows Boston to switch most pick and rolls without ending up in a major mismatch on LeBron. The Celtics were the best defensive team in the league during the regular season, and facing a Cavs offense that is firing on all cylinders will be a great challenge for them.

Stevens may have something up his sleeve that I haven’t even thought of, and I’m excited to see the defensive schemes that he draws up throughout this series.

Danny Ainge has done a great job of giving Stevens plenty of players to match up with LeBron, and it will be fascinating to see who steps up to the challenge.