Biggest concerns for Celtics against Cavaliers in Eastern Conference Semifinals

It may have been smooth sailing for the Celtics during the regular season, but that may not be the case in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cavaliers. Cleveland presents a tough and potentially overlooked opponent for the Celtics to get past on their way to the NBA Finals. The Cavs are already battle-tested after surviving a seven-game series with Orlando during the opening round. But what other challenges could derail the Celtics in this series? Let’s look at the biggest challenges the Celtics could potentially face throughout the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Donovan Mitchell’s Explosiveness

Without a doubt, Mitchell has to be Boston’s biggest concern during the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He took his game to another level during the final three games of Cleveland’s First Round series. Mitchell averaged 39 points per game over those three games, including 50 points in Game 6, albeit in a losing effort. Mitchell exploded during the second half of Game 7, helping the Cavs overcome a 10-point halftime deficit.

Surely, Mitchell is just getting started after that performance. The impressive part is that Mitchell doesn’t shoot a high percentage from the perimeter, yet he was able to dominate playoff games against the Magic. The concerning part for the Celtics defensively is the success Mitchell has had against them in the past. In his career, Mitchell is averaging 29.6 points per game when facing Boston. Containing him won’t be easy but will be Boston’s biggest focal point defensively.

Cleveland’s Depth

Of course, it’s not just Mitchell who can hurt the Celtics. Darius Garland is a strong backcourt partner for Mitchell, although the Cavs can go even deeper in the backcourt with Max Strus and Caris LeVert. Last year, Strus hurt the Celtics during the playoffs as a member of the Heat. LeVert, meanwhile, has a pair of 40-point games in his career against the Celtics. Even when Mitchell and Garland are off the court, the Celtics can’t relax.

Cleveland is capable of playing nine or 10 players in a game whereas the Celtics will rarely go beyond eight players. In fact, Boston has four players who are averaging at least 34 minutes per game during the playoffs. Keep in mind that’s with four double-digit wins against Miami in the First Round. The Celtics will be asking their core players to play more minutes than Cleveland’s starters, which could be a problem in a long series.

The Return of Jarrett Allen

The Cavs managed to beat the Magic in seven games despite not having Allen for the last three games. However, he could return at some point during the Eastern Conference Semifinals to give the Cleveland frontcourt a boost. Allen is a double-double waiting to happen and could be key to giving the Cavs a noticeable advantage inside against the Celtics. The caveat is that nobody knows when Allen will return from injury or how effective he may be when he returns.

The play of Allen upon his return could have a big impact on how oddsmakers and bettors view this series. At his best, Allen would be a difference-maker for the Cavs. NBA betting is bound to grow more popular the deeper we get into the playoffs, especially with several trusted platforms available for fans.

The Absence of Kristaps Porzingis

Along with the potential return of Allen, the Celtics should be concerned with the injury status of Porzingis. To be fair, Porzinigis only played 57 games during the regular season, so the Celtics are accustomed to playing without him. But he also averaged over 20 points per game and was Boston’s second-leading rebounder during the season. He leaves a considerable hole in the lineup, especially since Cleveland will be strong inside once Allen returns. Even if the Celtics trust veteran Al Horford, the injury to Porzinigis is a blow to Boston’s already questionable depth.

Close, Low-Scoring Games

After four lopsided wins in the First Round, the Celtics may need some time to adjust to playing close, low-scoring games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Cleveland’s defensive prowess could prevent the Celtics from playing up-tempo, high-scoring games. Instead, they might need to grind out games and make game-winning plays late in games.

This has been an issue for the Celtics in recent years during the playoffs. There are still plenty of critics who question Jayson Tatum’s late-game shot selection despite the numbers he puts up. With Cleveland’s defense, depth, and star power from Mitchell, the Celtics will need to prove that they can win close games. That could be a lingering concern for Boston throughout the Eastern Conference Semifinals.