Celtics vs. Cavaliers - Eastern Conference Finals preview?

The 2017-18 Celtics season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers is gone, but will never be totally forgotten. Gordon Hayward's traumatic injury in the early minutes of that game is not the type of incident that ever goes away entirely. But it is time to move on and take a close look at what most fans view as the true rivalry in the Eastern Conference.

Boston was expected to suffer record-wise terribly after losing one of their biggest stars, but that never happened. They sit at the top of the East with a 30-10 record. Cleveland had a sluggish start to the season but have righted themselves and are positioned third in the East at 25-12. Isaiah Thomas had a strong season debut versus the Portland Trailblazers, scoring 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting in only 18 minutes of floor time, while managing to hand out three assists. The tweet below encapsulates some of my feelings on Isaiah's stint with the Celtics.

Lebron James had his usual I-can't-believe-he-can-still-do-this game. Any team that features The King is an absolute handful. Here are Coach Brad Stevens' thoughts (per NBA's Taylor Snow):
“They’ve been great,” said Stevens. “Ever since that start when they won all those games in a row, they’ve kind of figured out a rotation that’s good for them. Their second unit is outstanding. They’ve got a guy that’s probably leading the charge for MVP in the league in LeBron (James), who’s been doing it now for 15 years. They’re the team to beat. Everybody knows that. We can all speculate all the way through the season all we want to, but they have been the class of the East.”

There you have it. "The class of the East" is how Brad Stevens views the Cavaliers, and they have earned that title. Lebron is their leader and is tops on the team in points, assists, steals and blocks. He never shows signs of fading from view. Kevin Love plays Robin to The King's Batman, averaging a double-double (20 points/10 rebounds). Cleveland is deep with 13 players averaging more than 12 minutes per game. And Isaiah Thomas is back, and he has something to prove. He had some wondrous exploits as a Celtic but never had a chance to continue them long-term. He just may do that with the Cavaliers. But the Celtics have something to prove also. Here is NBA's Taylor Snow once again with thoughts from Jaylen Brown:

This Celtics team is far better than the Celtics teams that Cleveland has faced in recent times. It’s far better than the team that the Cavs swept in the first round of the 2015-16 Playoffs, it’s better than the team they ousted in five games during last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, and its certainly better than the newly-brought-together team that they edged by three points during the 2017-18 season opener. Wednesday night will be Boston’s chance to prove it.

“We want to be able to show that we can compete with this team,” said (Jaylen) Brown. “We want to show that we can match up with this team and continue to devise schemes to outplay, outcoach and out-operate the Cleveland Cavaliers. And I think we can do it.”

The one unknown factor in the Celtics/Cavaliers rivalry is Isaiah Thomas. Like Lebron, he can single-handedly destroy the opposition on offense, but unlike James, Isaiah is a liability on defense. It remains to be seen what his fit will be with Cleveland. It appears that Isaiah will not play against the Celtics tonight, so we will have to wait to evaluate his value to his new team. Tonight's game will give us at least a hint of Boston's chances to take control of the Eastern Conference. I just wish Gordon Hayward was active.

Follow Tom at @TomLaneHC

Photo via Ken Blaze/USA Today