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Celtics not a 'simple' matchup for Cavs

CLEVELAND -- Finishing as the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed earned the Cleveland Cavaliers a first-round date with a sub-.500 opponent in the Boston Celtics starting on Sunday (ABC, 3 p.m. ET).

Had they been in the Western Conference, they'd be looking at a Dallas team with 50 wins in the 2-7 matchup. So, drawing the Celtics should be easy as (Boston cream) pie in comparison, right? Not so fast.

Despite their underwhelming final record and the fact they were ranked No. 11 in the East as late as March 5, the Celtics stormed into the playoffs, winners of nine of their past 10 games and compiling the most wins in the conference since Feb. 1, finishing 24-12 in that span.

"A really, really, really good team," Cavs coach David Blatt said when asked about the Celtics on Wednesday. "Extremely well coached. Hungry. Ambitious. Playing very well and athletic around the court. Not a simple first-round matchup at all. Not at all."

The Cavs, of course, won't be a simple opponent for the Celtics either. Cleveland closed out the season with 34 wins in its final 43 games, including a 113-108 overtime win over Washington in the season finale, a game that didn't mean anything with LeBron James sitting out and seeding already locked up for both teams.

Cleveland's 2-2 season series with Boston is nearly as irrelevant as that win over the Wizards when trying to predict how the postseason will go between them. The Celtics' last two wins came with the Cavs shorthanded, with injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert in one game and starters being rested in both games.

Cleveland's two wins over Boston aren't all that more revealing as they beat the Celtics way back on Nov. 14 with a healthy Anderson Varejao scoring 16 points and Dion Waiters chipping in 10 off the bench, and again on March 3 by 21 points in a game that was over by halftime and didn't show Boston's gritty side.

Another angle that will surely be brought up when analyzing the series is James' playoff history against the Celtics, considering the last game he played against them in his first stint with the Cavs was a loss in Boston in Game 6 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals.

But really, with Boston's core four from that team all gone (Kevin Garnett in Minnesota, Paul Pierce in Washington, Rajon Rondo in Dallas and Ray Allen out of basketball) and James surrounded by completely new teammates in Cleveland save for the injured Varejao, that's as ancient history as Blatt growing up 20 miles outside Boston in Framingham, Massachusetts.

"I've seen them numerous times in my career," James said, obliging the storyline without pointing out that he also might have had the best game of his postseason career in Boston in the 2012 conference finals in a do-or-die elimination Game 6. "Definitely, it's going to bring back memories to play against them and also go back to the Garden. We play there for Game 3. So, it should be exciting."

What's most exciting about the Celtics' brand of basketball is coach Brad Stevens and his interchangeable four guards in Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner and Marcus Smart. He plays them in all sorts of combinations, often putting three of them on the floor at the same time.

Not that it fazes the Cavs.

"I think the thing for that is that we also can go four guards," Irving said, alluding to the occasions he can take the floor alongside J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and James, who handles the ball like a guard. "It's a dynamic that we'll obviously have to go up against, but I feel we'll prepare as much as possible for it and Coach will make adjustments if need be."

No matter how formidable a foe the Celtics could prove to be, the Cavs' second-half run has people believing they are in store for a long ride in the playoffs.

"There's just not a lot of holes there in their game," Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said earlier this week. "I don't care how far they go, like anybody, they can be beaten, but it will take a great series performance for anybody to beat them."

Cleveland will be battling those expectations just as much as Boston's backcourt as the playoffs open up.

"We're just trying to do the best we can already to prepare for that series," Blatt said when asked if his team should make it to the NBA Finals. "Listen, I don't feel very good losing even one game. Losing a series? How am I going to feel? I guess that answers the question. A failed series puts you out of the competition. Obviously that would not sit well. But I'm not thinking about that."

Said James: "How good we want to be is how we go out and play the game and how we prepare. We have our own expectations. We don't worry what everyone else thinks of what we should do. It's about what we expect out of ourselves."