The Celtics can wrap up a trip the NBA finals tonight with a win over the Cavaliers in Cleveland. To do so, they’d have to buck a trend in this year’s playoffs, in which they are just 1-6 on the road in the postseason. However, the Celtics have improved on the road as this series has gone on. After losing by 30 in Game 3, they were competitive in Game 4, eventually losing by nine points.
The Celtics then returned home to win Game 5, putting them on the brink of playing for their 18th NBA title. Here’s what to watch for in Game 6 tonight.
Can the Cavaliers get rejuvenated back home?
Much was made of the fact the Cavaliers looked tired in Game 5. Perhaps another long season is catching up with LeBron James. He’s only 33, but as the saying goes, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage, as he is attempting to reach his eighth straight conference final. He played a full 82-game regular season for the first time in his career, and if the Cavaliers force a Game 7, it’ll be the 100th game he will have played this season.
“I had my moments,’’ James said. “But I think everybody at this point is tired, worn down or whatever the case may be.’’
James still managed 26 points and 10 rebounds in the loss. After Game 5 he was asked if he was under the weather.
“No. I’m fine,’’ James said. “I didn’t mention the fatigue, either. You guys did.’’
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue was among those who thought James was fatigued in Game 5, but believes James will be ready Friday night.
“It happens,’’ Lue said. “But one thing about it, I know he’ll be ready to play Game 6, so fatigue won’t be a problem and an issue. I’m pretty sure a lot of guys are tired during this stretch of the year.’’
Can the Celtics stay close early on?
In both Games 3 and 4, the Celtics fell behind early and faced deficits of 15 and 16 points , respectively, after the first quarter. While they managed to get back into Game 4 and knocked the lead down to single digits, they could never quite get over the hump and eventually lost.
If the Celtics are going to have a chance of clinching the series tonight, they will need to get off to a better start. A lead at the end of the first quarter would be nice, but they’d settle for being within 10 points.
Getting off to a fast start in Games 3 and 4 allowed the Cavaliers to rest James at times. It also allowed players like J.R. Smith and George Hill to settle down and play with a comfortable lead. The longer the Celtics can stay within striking distance, the more pressure will be put on Cleveland as it looks to keep its season alive.
Will the Celtics make more adjustments?
Lue was thrown off by a lineup tweak the Celtics made in Game 5, resulting in Kyle Korver not playing the entire first quarter.
“Well, initially [Stevens] has been putting [Semi] Ojeleye in, so that’s been Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game,’’ Lue said. “But he didn’t play him tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop.’’
If the Celtics go with the same lineup tonight, Cleveland will have to find a way to get Korver in the game earlier. But after using just a seven-man rotation Wednesday night, Stevens could mix it up again, and remains confident in Ojeleye, who did not play in Game 5.
“It has nothing to do with the guys that didn’t play,’’ Stevens said, “because I think all those guys are ready to help when called upon and have great attitudes and have been great teammates and prepared just as well and hard as the guys that did.’’
Game 6 details
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Series: Celtics lead, 3-2
Referees: Mike Callahan, John Goble, Derrick Stafford (Alternate: Tom Washington)