Celtics Beat: Eastern Conference Finals mental matchup; Brad Stevens vs. LeBron James

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On the most recent episode of Celtics Beat with Adam Kaufman, both A. Sherrod Blakely and Dave McMenamin discussed the upcoming Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers series.

The 2018 Eastern Conference Finals pits two of the best basketball minds in the world against one another.

On one side, Cleveland star LeBron James is as much of a player-coach as there is in the league, and his teams have won this series each of the last seven seasons. On the other side is Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Stevens has been anointed as an elite coach by seemingly every one except his peers. His work with a Celtics team down its two best players is unrivaled right now.

So, how will these two brains decide who advances to the NBA finals? That’s what Kaufman tried to get to the bottom of on Celtics Beat.

“Brad’s one of the better coaches, one of the best coaches in the league,” said McMenamin, who works for ESPN. “But just to say that he’s going to have the plans against LeBron when LeBron is 8-1 against him in the playoffs, in money time in the last three years I just don’t think that’s the way the Celtics are going to win; by having some series where LeBron’s numbers look terrible.”

What he is getting at is that as good as Stevens is, his goal may not be stopping James in the series. Nobody stops James, meaning Stevens has to keep an open mind to trying other tactics. Getting by Milwaukee and Philadelphia is one thing, but being the first team to knock off James in the East in eight years is a taller task.

“When you look back at those two series the Celtics were willing to make sure they were back defensively so they weren’t giving up points in transition, said NBC Sports Boston’s Blakely. “But the downside to that is they got clobbered on the offensive glass. And they have to find, I think, against Cleveland a better happy medium along those lines. You can’t keep giving LeBron James opportunity after opportunity to run that offense, even in the half-court setting.”

What Stevens does have is confidence, and his team’s confidence in him.

“I think the biggest thing is confidence. The ability that they can go onto another team’s floor and come away with a victory,” said NBC Sports Boston’s Blakely. “Philadelphia I think is a more talented team than Milwaukee. But not maybe quite as poised a team as you would expect to see in the second round of the playoffs. And the Celtics, to their credit, made the most of that. When you look at the games that Boston won that were relatively close those games came down to late-game, fourth quarter execution on both ends of the floor.”

As much confidence as Stevens and Boston do own, the fact remains that Stevens just coached his 30th playoff game. LeBron played his 200th last year in the Finals. While sweeping the Raptors last week, he played his 228th. He’s played in 45 NBA Finals games.

“I think the guy has tremendous will. He has no fear of any situation at this point, which obviously helps him on the court with his confidence,” McMenamin told Celtics Beat. “He hasn’t had a bad game yet [this postseason]. And really, out of the 11 games they’ve played, he’s probably had two good games and then nine great games. In the playoff runs I’ve covered up close and personal over the past four years this is his best one.”