With two wins apiece, the Celtics and Cavaliers will play the all-important Game 5 tonight in Cleveland. Shaquille O'Neal and Company have so far been outplayed by the boys from Beantown, and everyone in the playoffs has been outplayed by Boston's Rajon Rondo who is coming off a triple-double. The Cavs are carrying 7½-point chalk into the contest that is set to tip from Quicken Loans Arena at 8 p.m. (ET) on TNT.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are being outplayed by the Boston Celtics.
The Cavaliers and Celtics are deadlocked at 2-2 SU and ATS in their Eastern Conference semifinal, but except for the Celtics getting blown out at home in Game 3, they’ve had the better of the Cavs for the most part. It took a fourth-quarter rally for Cleveland to win the series opener.
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Here are the results thus far:
Game 1: Celtics 93, Cavaliers 101 (CLE -7)
Game 2: Celtics 104, Cavaliers 86 (BOS +6)
Game 3: Cavaliers 124, Celtics 95 (CLE +1)
Game 4: Cavaliers 87, Celtics 97 (BOS +1½)
That’s a clean sweep for zigzag bettors, who no doubt will be on Cleveland for Tuesday’s Game 5 at the Q. The betting odds for this matchup opened with the Cavaliers laying 7½ points and a total of 193½; those odds remained stable overnight with the action split on light trading.
We also have a zigzag against the total: both Cleveland wins went 'over,' while both Boston victories went 'under' as the Celtics defense rose to the occasion.
Cleveland supporters will be satisfied if the pattern holds for the rest of this series. But there’s another pattern that’s been established after four games: Rajon Rondo is killing the Cavs.
Game 1: 27 points, 12 assists, six rebounds
Game 2: 13 points, 19 assists, four rebounds
Game 3: 18 points, eight assists, five rebounds
Game 4: 29 points, 13 assists, 18 rebounds
Rondo’s performance in Sunday’s Game 4 was hailed as one of the all-time greatest in Boston playoff history. Fans at the Garden serenaded Rondo with chants of “M-V-P” as he drained his last two points of the night from the free-throw line. “He imposed his will on the game,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown told reporters.
From a statistical perspective, only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain have had more productive playoff games in the history of the NBA.
Can lightning strike twice? Rondo is one of the top rebounding guards in the league, but his 18 boards on Sunday are still an anomaly. Cleveland only managed three offensive rebounds in Game 4 because Rondo was scooping everything up with his long arms. There will be more second-chance scoring opportunities for the Cavs in Game 5. There should also be more 3-pointers; Cleveland sank just four of 21 trey attempts, and LeBron James was 0-for-5.
James has a solution. He wants to switch assignments and defend Rondo, much as he did against Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls as Cleveland went on to win that Eastern quarterfinal in five games. James and Coach Brown reportedly butted heads over this strategy during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Celtics. Brown preferred to keep James on Paul Pierce, who has been plagued with foul trouble going up against the league MVP. Pierce managed just nine points on 3-of-8 shooting in Game 4.
Pierce has been a non-factor offensively in this series thanks to James, but at age 32, the Celtics captain isn’t as elusive as he once was. Rondo is the superior player at this moment in time. And James is the superior defender to Anthony Parker, who is also in decline at age 34. Parker hasn’t been burned quite as badly as the other Cleveland guards; he couldn’t stop Rondo in Game 3, but he did contain him. Not so in Game 4.
We can only speculate at this point whether James will get his way this time. But if he does, it should only benefit the Cavaliers. Rondo was able to blow by Parker (and everyone else) on Sunday and get into the lane; Pierce used to have that ability as well, but he’s more of a jump shooter now. Parker still has the wingspan and the veteran savvy to impede Pierce at the wing. These are the kind of playoff adjustments that make the zigzag work for handicappers.