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Posted: Monday May 5, 2008 12:24PM; Updated: Monday May 5, 2008 12:24PM
Marty Burns Marty Burns >
INSIDE THE NBA

Cavaliers-Celtics series breakdown

Story Highlights
  • The Celtics and Cavs split four games during the regular season
  • Boston must regroup quickly after a tough-than-expected first-round series
  • Can the Cavs score enough against the Celtics' top-ranked defense?
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LeBron James averaged 32.3 points and 9.7 assists in three games against the Celtics during the regular season.
LeBron James averaged 32.3 points and 9.7 assists in three games against the Celtics during the regular season.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

No. 4 Cavaliers vs. No. 1 Celtics

Season Series: Tied 2-2

• Nov. 27 -- Cavs 109, Celtics 104: LeBron James scored 11 of his 38 points in overtime as the host Cavs handed Boston just its second loss of the season. James added 13 assists, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 15 points and 15 rebounds for Cleveland. Ray Allen scored 29 points to lead the Celtics.

• Dec. 2 -- Celtics 80, Cavs 70: The Celtics took advantage of the absence of LeBron (sprained finger) to pull out a sloppy victory. Allen scored 20 points to lead Boston, which hit just 37.5 percent of its shots but limited Cleveland to 32.9 percent.

• Feb. 5 -- Cavs 114, Celtics 113: LeBron had 33 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and five steals as the host Cavs held off a Boston team missing Garnett (abdominal strain). Ilgauskas added 21 points and 10 boards for the Cavs. Allen had 24 points to pace Boston.

• Feb. 27 -- Celtics 92, Cavs 87: In the teams' only meeting after the Ben Wallace/Wally Szczerbiak trade, Garnett had 18 points and 11 boards as the Celtics evened up the season series. LeBron shook off an ankle injury to finish with 26 points, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to reach 10,000 for his career.

The Skinny: It's LeBron vs. the Big Three. That's the storyline as James tries to prevent Garnett, Paul Pierce and Allen from taking his Eastern Conference crown. Even for a superstar such as James, it will be an enormous task.

Boston was the NBA's top team during the regular season. But the Celtics enter the series with some questions after needing seven games to dispatch the eighth-seeded Hawks in the first round. Boston did not live up to its billing as the league's No. 1 defensive unit for much of that series (Game 7 was a notable exception), showing particular vulnerability to dribble penetration (which could be fatal against LeBron), and its veteran leadership didn't prevent the team from losing three times in Atlanta.

The Cavs, on the other hand, are well-rested and feeling pretty good after silencing the Wizards in six games. While Cleveland struggled to show consistency after its blockbuster midseason trade, it seemed to come together -- at least defensively - against Washington. James was superb as usual, leading the Cavs each game despite uneven contributions from his supporting cast.

Cleveland has enough big bodies in Ilgauskas, Wallace, Joe Smith and Anderson Varejao to clog up the paint and make life difficult for the Celtics. The Cavs are also one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA, so they will get a lot of second possessions. The big question is whether Ilgauskas, Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Daniel Gibson will give LeBron the offensive help he needs to offset Boston's Big Three.

Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Paul Pierce

Get ready for a parade to the foul line. These two All-Star small forwards are big-time scorers who can break down any defense and get to the stripe for easy points. James led the NBA in scoring (30.0) during the regular season, while adding 7.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.8 steals. Pierce sacrificed some of his scoring this season with the arrival of Garnett and Allen, but still posted impressive numbers (19.6, points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists) while serving as his team's go-to guy at the end of most games. LeBron is asked to do a lot more than just score for his team. He must rebound, defend and set up teammates for the Cavs to pull off this upset. If Pierce can just make LeBron work at the defensive end, it could take its toll on him over the course of a long series.

X-Factor for Cavs: The former Celtics

Cleveland's starting backcourt of Szczerbiak and West played together in Boston for one-and-a-half seasons before being shipped to Seattle in last summer's Allen trade. Both have been inconsistent since arriving in Cleveland, but each had big moments in the last series against the Wizards. West had 21 points -- including the game-winning three-pointer - in Game 4, while Szczerbiak pumped in a career-playoff-high 26 points in the Game 6 clincher. They will need to hit open shots in this series as well to help take pressure off LeBron.

X-Factor for Celtics: Ray Allen

The sweet-shooting All-Star guard might be the third wheel for Boston, but he could be its key player in this series. With Garnett facing all those tall Cavs defenders, and Pierce up against LeBron, the Celtics will have a tough time scoring in some games. Allen must take full advantage of his matchup with the slow-footed Szczerbiak and pick up the slack for his team. Also, if he starts hitting three-pointers, it will open the floor for Pierce and KG. For what it's worth, Allen led the Celtics in scoring against the Cavs in all four games during the season series.

The Pick: The Celtics looked vulnerable against the Hawks, and the Cavs have LeBron and some big bodies on defense. But can Cleveland score enough against Boston's vaunted defense? LeBron can't do it alone, can he?
Boston in six.

 
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