To Trust LeBron James or the Celtics at Home: A Statistical Basketball Enigma

By: Oscar Rzodkiewicz, @ORzodkiewicz on Twitter

Cleveland Cavaliers hometown hero LeBron James dazzled the Boston Celtics in a win-or-go-home Game 6 in Ohio to the tune of 46 points, including two gargantuan and clutch threes with under 150 ticks left on the clock, and one dime shy of a triple-double, so the series boils down to 48 crucial minutes on Sunday night in the TD Garden.

James’ track record in elimination games continues to grow, as the heart of Cleveland basketball has posted either 30 points or a triple-double in his last 14 elimination games dating back nearly six years, but the Celtics’ perfect home record in the 2018 NBA playoffs has them giving 2.5 points on the betting line and leaves its fans with more than enough reason to believe Boston can reach the NBA Finals for the 22nd time in franchise history.

Giving the nod to either side prematurely would be a mistake, but recent history provides a deep look into which team to trust more.

Two-seeds at home in Game 7 of the conference finals since the 16-team playoff format began sit at 2-0, and Boston’s all-time record at home in Game 7s is 20-4. Despite dropping all but one game on the road in the 2018 NBA playoffs, the C’s remain a perfect 10-0 at home with a youthful core seemingly utilizing the raucous Boston crowd this postseason.

Boston’s rock at center, Al Horford, has averaged nearly nine points fewer on the road than at home, including shooting 59.2 percent in TD Garden compared to 45.8 percent elsewhere. Horford’s presence on both sides of the ball will be pivotal in this elimination game, especially with All-Star forward Kevin Love held out as he undergoes concussion protocol.

The Celtics as a whole boast a 10.7 net rating at home in the 2018 NBA playoffs compared to the Cavaliers’ -7.4 on the road, but some venue statistics of this year’s postseason are not so drastic.

Boston’s home turnover percentage and True Shooting percentage sit at 11.4 and 56.9 respectively, but Cleveland clocks in with 12.1 percent and 53.6 percent in the same categories away from Quicken Loans Arena this postseason.

Cleveland’s less-than-hidden x-factor in James gives the Cavs a shot, regardless of either team’s histories or statistics. James posted 45 points with only 25 field goal attempts in Cleveland’s Game 7 victory against the Indiana Pacers in the first round, including tying a personal 2018 postseason-high with 15 attempts from the stripe.

James’ ability to slow the game down, however, may not favor the Cavaliers as much as anticipated. The Celtics’ 96.86 home pace sits just a hair above the Cavaliers’ 94.15 away pace this postseason. Cleveland’s pace has been remarkably similar whether at home or on the road during the course of the playoffs, varying only 0.05 points in either situation.

Ironically, the Cavaliers’ road assist percentage and assist-to-turnover ratios trump their home figures of the same statistics during this postseason despite being 8-1 at home and 3-5 away, but the glaring difference causing the 15.4 net rating gap between venues for the Cavs may stem from a simple points average from its star performer.

James’ 29.3 points average on 49.7 percent shooting from the field on the road is nothing to sneeze at, but his remarkable 38.1 points and 58.7 percent at home puts baby in the corner. James actually dished only one fewer total assist on the road despite playing a full game fewer than at home through Game 6 of the postseason, but the dip in his scoring figures could tell the tale.

The only road Game 7 since 2009 that James has played in was 2016’s NBA Finals, championship-clinching comeback performance in which he posted 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists with 2 steals and 3 blocks to boot. In all away playoff elimination games, James averages 34.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 6.7 assists.

The caveat? James is only 3-6 in his nine away elimination game with two of those victories coming during his miraculous 3-1 series comeback in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

Whether James and the Cavaliers can pull this road victory out will lie heavily in his personal performance, but the Celtics successful postseason in Boston could just as easily carry the team back to promised land for the first time since 2010.

In any case, be careful when placing your bets on this game.

By: Oscar Rzodkiewicz, @ORzodkiewicz on Twitter

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