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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at 1:00 PM

It’s not just that the Cleveland Cavaliers are trailing 2-0 in their Eastern Conference Championship series against the Boston Celtics. That’s not the end of the world. Boston has only “held serve” to this point, meaning Cleveland can still win its home games and win one of two remaining market coin flips in Boston to reach the NBA Finals. The problem for LeBron James and company is that Boston is a HORRIBLE matchup them.

Among the reasons…

*Boston is younger and much more energetic. Though Cleveland did a good job of pacing themselves to be fresh for the playoffs, that only worked against Toronto. When the Raptors started gagging, Cleveland attacked and took advantage. Boston isn’t gagging, but is instead attacking the softest spots on Cleveland’s defense. Boosted by spirt, enthusiasm, and a boisterous home crowd, it looks like one team is running a 100-yard dash while the other is plodding through a marathon. Each game is basically a 100-yard dash, so that favors young legs.

*Boston has an extreme coaching advantage. Brad Stevens is a tactical genius who knows how to get the most out of his players, and how to hide weaknesses while magnifying strengths. Tyronn Lue gets out of the way to let LeBron run things. That can work against much of the league. But, it doesn’t work in a game of chess against a chess master. If something goes wrong for Boston, the Celtics make a smart adjustment. If something goes wrong for Cleveland, they don’t really know what to do beyond emphasizing LeBron.

*Boston has the much better defense. JIM HURLEY has been telling you on these pages for YEARS that DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS. Even as all sports evolve toward better offenses, it’s franchises that are best at preventing scoring who win titles. We talked last week in the HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK about Golden State’s abilities in this area. The Warriors are market favorites to lift the trophy again. Cleveland had one of the worst defenses in the league during the regular season. Even with an increase in intensity, they don’t have the skill sets (or patience) to chase down Boston’s attackers for a full 48 minutes. Boston’s defense forced 15 Cleveland turnovers Tuesday night, and an emphasis on protecting the arc has held the Cavs’ three-point shooters to just 14 of 57 from long range.

Let’s say the series won’t be as one-sided the rest of the way as it’s been so far (Boston’s up 38 points on the scoreboard through two games!). What can Cleveland do to win FOUR of the last FIVE in a best-of-seven series? LeBron just had a 42-point effort in a double-digit loss. Three-point accuracy should improve…but Boston’s defensive strength is guarding the arc. Cleveland won’t have FOUR great long-range shooting games. Kyle Korver isn’t going to get any faster. Boston’s youngsters aren’t going to get any slower unless there are injuries.

It’s very possible that the Cleveland/Toronto series was a red herring that was telling us why Dwayne Casey should have been fired as Raptors head coach. Cleveland didn’t “find” its championship form. Cleveland just abused a pretender that lacked strategic intelligence and mental toughness. Before that, a life and death series with unimpressive Indiana. After, getting outclassed by Boston in the same way Philadelphia did in the last round.

The East is so bad that a bunch if inexperienced kids can hustle their way to a conference crown because their head coach is so smart. Cleveland doesn’t have the depth it takes to overcome what Boston brings to the table.

JIM HURLEY released Boston to his NETWORK clients in each of the first two games (along with Golden State plus the points vs. Houston in Game One out West). He has certainly read the team side dynamics correctly so far. But, that doesn’t mean Boston is going to be an auto-play as a road team. Don’t forget that the Celtics lost their last road game in Philadelphia by 12 points, and in Milwaukee by 24, 11 (and 2) points. Boston is more of a steal at home than on the road.

You’ll have to be a paying customer to find out who JIM HURLEY likes on a game-by-game basis this week. After what you’ve seen over the years in the NBA Playoffs, March Madness, the NFL Playoffs, and college football’s championship chase…you know that WHEN CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE ON THE LINE, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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We’ll have to see how the line adjusts before determining betting strategies for the rest of the series. Barring injuries, Boston is definitely going to get a serious look if the Celtics are still priced near pick-em in home games. If the line adjusts upward…to maybe Boston -3 or Boston -4, that would present new handicapping challenges. Suddenly, young Boston is in position to choke under new expectations, against a player in LeBron James who has a lot of late-series playoff experience.

The Celtics are a horrible matchup for the Cavaliers…but Boston isn’t in the finals just yet. Stick with JIM HURLEY to make sure you get BIG, JUICY WINNERS no matter what oddsmakers throw your way. He’ll make sure you GET THE MONEY!

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