LeBron James is not the best player in the Eastern Conference Finals. He is the best player in the world.
Does it feel like we have been here before? The NBA season opened with a showdown between the Celtics and Cavaliers in October and the Eastern Conference Finals will feature the same. Players on both sides have come and gone this season via both injury and trade but for the 2nd straight season the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers will meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics are down multiple all-stars but behind the direction of head coach Brad Stevens have found a way to expedite their youth movement and now face their toughest task. Check out the names to know before the series tips off this Sunday:
5) Terry Rozier
Who saw this coming at the start of the playoffs? Terry Rozier has gone from the 9th man in coach Brad Stevens’ rotation to start the season, to maybe the most important part of the Celtics’ starting lineup. With a nagging knee injury knocking out star point guard Kyrie Irving for the season in early April, the 3rd year guard out of Louisville has been asked to step up in a big way. He leads the team in minutes played over the second half of the season and is currently boasting averages of 18.2 points, 5.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game in the playoffs. I think Eric Bledsoe finally figured out who Terry Rozier is and so is the rest of the NBA.
4) Kevin Love
The 5-time All-Star has not been at his peak this postseason but will need to be at his best to give the Cavaliers any shot to win a title. While he is still averaging a double-double for the postseason (14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds) his impact has not felt the same when he is on the floor. He has however recently shown signs of life and scored 75 points in the last 3 games. For the Cavs to advance to the Finals, he’ll have to continue to score and alleviate some of the pressure that falls onto King James (more on him in a moment).
3) Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown
There are no rules in Lists & Basketball…or something like that. Yes, we are technically cheating with this spot on the list, but let’s be real, both guys should still be undergrads and are about to be tasked with taking on The King in the ECF. They get to share this spot. One a rookie (Tatum) and the other a sophomore (Brown), they have been the biggest beneficiaries of the bleak outlook cast upon the Celtics during opening night when prized free agent Gordon Hayward went down with a gruesome season-ending injury. With their accelerated development throughout the season, the duo is averaging over 35 points and almost 10 rebounds per game through the first 2 rounds. Regardless of their age, they’ll need to play their best for the Celtics to have any chance of reaching the Finals.
2) Al Horford
The forgotten All-Star on this Celtics roster. He was supposed to be the 3rd member of the big 3 going into this season but as the Eastern Conference Finals are set to begin he is clearly the alpha dog and leader of this young and scrappy team. The numbers for Big Al this post season are great (17 points, 8.7 rebounds) but don’t tell the whole story. Al is the defensive leader for this team and is the center of Brad Stevens’ offensive and defensive schemes that have left elite players like the Greak Freak, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons watching the ECF from their couches. As has been the case this whole season, Al will be asked to do a lot for the Celtics in this series, which may even include trying to shutdown the #1 player on this list during crunch time.
1) LeBron James
Who else did you expect to see in this spot? In his 15th season in the NBA, The King has somehow found a way to take his game to another level. The Cavaliers roster has been full of turmoil and turnover all season, but the one constant has always been James. The league’s best player is currently playing his best basketball of the season. With averages of 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 9 assists per game there is little reason to expect The King to slow that production now that he is in the ECF for the 8th straight year. Yes, 8th straight year! That is not a typo! If LeBron can get any type of help from his teammates we should expect to see the Cavaliers back in the finals for the 4th straight season.
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