BOSTON — How’s this for a hot take: The winner of the Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals series against the Cleveland Cavaliers will be the team that makes the most shots.
We realize that’s stating the blatantly obvious, but there’s some truth behind that fact: Beyond all the hype surrounding LeBron James and Isaiah Thomas, there’s a very good chance this series will boil down to outside shooting.
Both the Celtics and Cavs have relied heavily on the 3-point shot this postseason. Cleveland enters Game 1 at TD Garden on Wednesday ranked first among all playoff teams in 3-pointers made with 14.4 per game, while Boston ranks second with 13.1 per contest. Only the Houston Rockets have attempted more threes per game (38.5) in these playoffs than the Celtics (34.9).
Cavs star LeBron James has had nine full days to scout the C’s, and he’s apparently done his homework.
“Well, they’re one or two shooting the most threes in the postseason, up there with Golden State and Houston,” James said Wednesday before Cleveland’s shootaround at the Garden. “So, we have to understand that that’s one of their main focuses. We have to cover the 3-point line.”
James also pointed out the Celtics hoisted 26 3-pointers in their Game 7 win over the Wizards on Monday, despite Washington actively trying to take away the outside shot.
“We have to understand that this is something that they do,” James added. “(Thomas) is getting up nine, 10 (3-point attempts) a game, and it’s not just him. Avery (Bradley), Jae Crowder, (Kelly) Olynyk, the rest of those guys — (Al) Horford is shooting at a high clip now. So, we’ve got to protect the 3-point line.”
But if the C’s boast an arsenal of outside weapons, the Cavs employ an entire armory. Nine players on Cleveland’s roster are shooting 40 percent or higher from beyond the arc this postseason, with sharpshooters like Deron Williams (60 percent), Channing Frye (55.2 percent), Kyle Korver (48.5 percent) and even James himself (46.8 percent) leading the way. James draws major attention from opposing defenses and excels at giving his teammates open looks when he gets pressured.
“As far as making shots, as far as running good offense and taking what the defense gives you — it’s all about making shots,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said Wednesday. “If we’re making shots, we know we’re a tough team to beat, along with those guys: If they’re making shots, they’re a tough team to beat.”
Of course, there’s a reason why the Cavs are heavy favorites in this series. They can beat you with outside shooting but also can score in other ways, as James and Kyrie Irving are excellent at creating their own offense. Boston tends to live and die by the three, and if Thomas and his supporting cast go cold beyond the arc, this could be a very quick series.
The Celtics have been in a shooting groove of late, though, and if they want to give the Cavs a run for their money, they’ll need to stay hot from deep while doing their best to keep Cleveland’s outside shooters in check.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images