The Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers will meet today for their second consecutive NBA Eastern Conference Finals together. Both teams followed a similar path in their previous playoff rounds. Boston reached this stage by beating the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games. Then they beat the odds, winning the second round against the Philadelphia 76ers in five games. The Cavs had a problematic first round against the Pacers. Cleveland won in seven games. The second, instead, was way smoother. Facing Toronto Raptors' familiar faces made the Cavaliers click.

The result was a four games sweep for them.

The Overview

Neither of these two teams was expected to make it this far into the postseason, considering how the regular season - especially the second half of it - went for both of them. Cleveland, at the beginning of the regular season, was deemed as an Eastern Conference favorite even after they traded Kyrie Irving. They were considered so, just because the Cavs had LeBron, yet there still was Kevin Love to help him out, and Isaiah Thomas (the best piece coming from the Celtics in trading Kyrie) was coming off his best season. Then, the Cavs locker room went in shambles. There were internal problems that the front office solved by dispatching 40 percent of the roster to different addresses by the trade deadline.

It was an almost new team, with no chemistry, and unproven players. James had to do it all. His new teammates, instead, had to learn to understand each other while the season went on. All of a sudden everything clicked, during the Raptors sweep, and here they are, with all their hopes intact, to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals.

Boston wasn't supposed to be in the ECF either, although many pundits considered the Celtics as a potential contender along the way. The Celtics' season, nonetheless, looked derailed in the first quarter of the first game of the regular season when the second big summer signing - Gordon Hayward - went down with a broken ankle.

Then the consideration on the Celtics as a potential contender got even worse when their biggest acquisition on the free agent market - Kyrie Irving - was injured to his previously surgically repaired knee. Irving is out indefinitely. So, the situation at the beginning of the playoff was that Boston quest for the title will truly begin starting from next season when the Celtics will be back at full strength. Not so fast. Boston is still in the mix and is fighting to make things difficult for the King and his subjects.

Talking about the Celtics. Close your eyes and imagine this scene. It's game seven at the TD Garden. The Celtics have pushed the Cavs and LeBron to the limit. On the brink of elimination.

However, they need an enormous emotional boost. The teams came out of the lockerrooms and Kyrie is there! How about Kyrie Irving doing a -Willis Reed? How about the team's most iconic player dressing up like the New York Knicks center (and captain) did in game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Lakers in spite of a fractured shin bone? Maybe even hit the first two buckets of the game giving a massive push to his teammates. That would be quite a story!

Unfortunately, it won't happen. The Celtics will have to go to the Finals without their two best players. But Boston's actual roster is filled by prominent athletes as well. That's why the narrative that the Celtics overcame their own limitations to reach this point into the playoff is half true and half false.

It is true because the length of the team has been damaged by all these injuries.

It's half false because Celtics' roster is filled up by quality players. Starting from Al Horford. The man has been an all-star five times during his career. He has, also, 104 playoff appearances before this season. Jaylen Brown is a top pick of the 2016 Draft and his development this season has been impressive. Marcus Morris is a first-round draft pick (14th overall in 2011), with a solid NBA career. Marcus Smart is a former eighth draft pick in the first round. Last but not least, there's this year rookie sensation: Jayson Tatum. Who enters this series as the top offensive weapon for Boston. Someone, by the way, who also has a positive point differential in the matchup against LeBron James, per

The Celtics force the other teams to play left-handed. They have a defensive organizational commitment to identify shooters in transition and cut the space between the defender and the shooter to force the latter to take a contested shot even from a distance. They do switch regularly, as Zach Lowe recently noted in one of his famous column on Espn. They do it tirelessly. There are lineups who seem to be constructed to switch systematically on defense. More importantly: they are prepared to execute for 24 seconds. Nobody pauses. Nobody stops until the shot is taken or the shot clock expires. That's why Boston is so capable of not letting the other team feel comfortable against its defense.

On offense, this team is different from the majority of other NBA teams.

Thanks to an in-depth statistical analysis provided by through Synergy, two things come to surface. The first one, Boston, is a spot-up shooting team. Most of the points per possession come from spot-up situations like 1.058 points per possession. This is how life is without one of the best pick and roll players in Basketball, like Kyrie Irving. That forced coach Brad Stevens to zag, when everybody was zigging. He preached a laser-focus ball movement, on set plays, where everybody had little room for improvisation. Boston, to add to this, has players who make a living with a spot-up shot: Al Horford excels in this, Marcus Morris the same, Terry Rozier is scoring 18.8 points per game (25.5 on 100 possessions, per mostly coming from spot-up shooting situations.

Then, there's Jayson Tatum. As Lowe noted in his column, rookies are mentored and empowered in Boston. The veterans take care of the youngsters on a consistent basis. The rookies, also, are enabled from the very beginning, hence when their numbers are called, they are ready to step up right from the bat. That's what happened with the rookie from Duke, who, evidently, was mentally prepared to jump a few steps altogether in his growth as Jack McCluskey highlighted in a piece on the Ringer. Synergy puts this in numbers: 1.133 points per Spot Up possession, the kind of shot Tatum prefers the most. But he saw improvement even from pick and roll and transition situations. This is Boston. A team that gets the most out of its strengths and make opponents play ugly.

Will it be enough to beat Cleveland?

Talking about the Cavs. What everyone discovered during the Toronto Raptors series is that LeBron James is not alone anymore. Every star needs a reliable and valid supporting cast. Against Indiana that didn't happen much, except in Game 7 of the series when Tristan Thompson (taken off from the shelf by coach Lue) joined LeBron in providing a solid performance. Against Toronto, LeBron finally had help.

Especially from Kyle Korver and Kevin Love. Always Zach Lowe on Espn went deep into how the two created a mutual basketball understanding while sharing playing time during the playoff. He explained the way they work together on a quarter of court. How they built a sort of read-and-react kind of basketball connection to create mutual advantages through those actions.

The idea here is to push the defense to switch every time. The moment the defense does that, it's a win-win situation for Cleveland. You have Kevin Love working the low post against a smaller guy and Kyle Korver working the baseline (or the sideline) with a bigger, slower, opponent. With the ball in LeBron's hands is almost guaranteed that, when the King doesn't go on his own, the ball will timely arrive in the hands of the one of the two with the most definite advantage. What Lowe, through Korver and Kevin Love's mouth, pointed out is that there's not a set script in this situation. It's improvisation and ability to work together on a basketball court.

This thing can be expanded even to other components of the lineup.

As Owen Phillips studied on, many Cleveland lineups are entirely new. They have never been featured by coach Tyron Lue during the NBA regular season. What is even more interesting is that the George Hill-LeBron James-Kyle Korver-Kevin Love- JR Smith lineup, which has never been featured before in the regular season, ranks third in the playoffs in the plus/minus category with +41.

This lineup seems to have a natural chemistry. There's a point guard who is a sort of balancing element between the other four guys on the floor. Who is also committed to defend and take shots where they are without pushing the envelope too much. Two outside shooters, who can cover at will (Smith, and Korver) and a modern-era NBA big man (Love) who has a decent post up game as well as a competent outside shot.

Then, there's him. LeBron James. Every facet of his game has been dissected since the very beginning of this playoff. Synergy and have put in numbers all this, by statistically define his overall impact on his team with his 70 points created per game over 48 minutes, and his point per possession on a specific situation.

What is even more impressive is his percentages on specific offensive circumstances: 76.6 percent of effective field goals on shots taken under ten feet of distance from the basket. Even more astonishing - 66.7 percent of EFFFG on shots made in the very first seconds of a play; 73 percent on shots taken between 18-15 seconds; 69.9 percent of EFFFG on shots hit on 15 and seven seconds on the shot clock. These numbers say one thing: when LeBron attacks early, he's nearly unstoppable.

On the flip side, it's not by chance, that the Celtics, who have one of the best defensive-transition in the League, have been able to limit the King to 24 points per game and 1.030 points per possession against them. Boston is at crossroads here. Let LeBron score in bunches and focus on limiting the other four? Or concentrate on limiting LeBron and let the other four go?

The Key Players

Al Horford (Boston Celtics): he is the quarterback of Brad Stevens'defense. He is the one who holds everyone else accountable for their assignments. He will have moments where he'll have to probably guard LeBron and will have no problem in switching on every opponent. Offensively, he is the rock of an highly-organized offense. Besides the three-point, Horford shoots with percentages way above 50percent from any distance between the arc and the rim.

Kyle Korver (Cleveland Cavs): he is doing what Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood were supposed to be doing after Cleveland traded for them. He's being the second offensive weapon assisting LeBron. He had problems finding the rhythm in the first round against Indiana (only 8.3 pts per game, according to but found his groove against Toronto (14.5 points). His 46.2 percent from the three points line is a gift for Cleveland. As it is the 43 percent from the corners. It has to be seen whether against a defense, like Boston's, that's so prepped up in defending the three-point shot, Korver will be able to maintain the same level of effectiveness.

The prediction

The Celtics, as said, were one of the few teams to slow LeBron down, bringing him to earthly stats. The Celtics were also able to make Cleveland shoot poorly from the distance. The problem with Boston is its depth. Cleveland, no matter what, has more weapons in the that could be used at need. The Celtics will fight hard, but Cleveland will go to its fourth consecutive NBA Final (and LeBron James' eighth) after six hard-fought matches.