Six Keys Celtics Must Follow to Defeat LeBron James and Cavaliers


April 28, 2010

Six Keys Celtics Must Follow to Defeat LeBron James and Cavaliers So far, so good for the Celtics. They've gotten their wish — a quick and painless five-game opening series, smooth sailing to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Perhaps they should be careful what they wish for.

Next up is the best team in the NBA this season, a 61-win Cleveland juggernaut led by a man on a mission in 25-year-old LeBron James. This is the year for LeBron and the Cavaliers to take home a championship — if not now, then there's no telling when the Cavs will get another chance.

Beating Cleveland is never easy. But beating them when they're motivated to the point of desperation? That's near impossible.

If the Celtics are going to shock the basketball world and pull off the upset, everything's got to go right. Here are six keys to the series that lies ahead:

1. Stay mentally tough against LeBron.
No shock, no awe, no admiration. He's just a guy. He's human. The minute you get preoccupied by his aura of greatness, that's the minute he breaks you down and takes the game over. The Celtics have to do everything they can not to let that happen. And remember — he's not invincible. The Cavaliers have made five straight playoff runs in the LeBron/Mike Brown era, and the first four all came up short. This team is beatable, but only if you stay focused from start to finish.

2. Make James work hard for everything.
It sounds simple, but it can make the difference between winning and losing — force LeBron to work hard on every single possession. Keep a body on him. When that doesn't work, throw two or three guys at him. Don't let him bully you, and contest every single shot. Doc Rivers noticed with Dwyane Wade in the Miami series that when Wade shot 67 percent, he was unbeatable. But when you force him to work harder for his points, you can hold him under 50 percent and there you see a window of opportunity. The same's true of LeBron. Make him work.

3. Outhustle, outwork and outplay Shaquille O'Neal.
It's obvious why Shaq was brought into Cleveland last summer — he's the perfect big man to match up in the playoffs with a dominating low-post force like, say, Dwight Howard. But that's if they make it to Orlando in the next round. Against the Celtics? Shaq has weaknesses the Celtics can exploit. He's old, he's slow and he doesn't have the energy to hang with a younger big man from start to finish. Kendrick Perkins will work harder than Shaq all series long. Winning the war down low will be huge in this series.

4. Control the energy guys.
Countless times during the Celtics' four regular-season games with the Cavaliers, we saw the hustle of Cleveland's Anderson Varejao become a game-changer. And not just Varejao, but also J.J. Hickson, Jamario Moon and old friend Leon Powe. It may be LeBron, Shaq and Antawn Jamison making the headlines, but Cleveland's bench energy guys have been a huge factor against Boston, fighting for rebounds and loose balls and playing relentless defense. Perk and Kevin Garnett have got to show some muscle, showing the scrappy Cavs who's boss early.

5. Get out there and contest shots.
Little-known fact about the Cavaliers: They finished second in the NBA in team 3-point percentage at 38.1 percent, trailing only the 41.2 percent of the Phoenix Suns. The Cavs don't take a lot of long-range shots, but when they do, they're good ones. Daniel Gibson, Mo Williams and Anthony Parker are potent weapons if they're left open, so the challenge for the Celtics is simple — don't leave them open. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo will all have to be active on the perimeter defensively.

6. Don't let up for a second.
All year long, we've heard the skeptics question the consistency of this team's effort. There can't be any question in this series — the Celtics need to give a solid effort for all 48 minutes of every game, no exceptions.

Against the vaunted Cavaliers, winning won't be easy. But nothing worth winning ever is. If they want it, the Celtics will have to earn it.

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