2 adjustments Cleveland Cavaliers must make to steal Game 1 from Boston Celtics

Entering Round 2 as heavy underdogs, the Cleveland Cavaliers must adjust to limit the Boston Celtics and maximize their potential.
Cleveland Cavaliers v Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers v Chicago Bulls / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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The Cleveland Cavaliers begin their Second Round series against the Boston Celtics on the road, entering TD Garden as heavy underdogs for the game and series.

Despite ending the Orlando Magic's season, the Cavaliers still are haunted by their lingering flaws and occasional regression to bad habits and repetitive offensive design. In the regular season, the Cavs never faced the Celtics fully healthy all game and only one once out of three games behind a Dean Wade masterclass in the fourth quarter.

With the league's best record through 82 games, the Celtics entered the postseason favored to win the conference. The Cavaliers are viewed as another hurdle along the way, and Cavs superstar Donovan Mitchell is aware of this perspective.

"For us coming into Boston, I'm pretty sure everybody thinks they're going to come in and kick our ass. So for us to continue to stay levelheaded throughout and not listen to y'all [the media] and just be who we are, that's the biggest thing."

Donovan Mitchell

His comments highlight the mature leadership he has displayed since joining the Cavaliers, a mentality and role the team needed as they build toward the next generation of Cleveland basketball greatness. For all of his words and historic playoff performances, the Cavaliers must follow through and battle tooth and nail against the Celtics even to make the series competitive. Boston knows how to win, and the Cavs enter the series with one day off and questions surrounding Jarrett Allen's return from injury.

If the Cavaliers hope to win the series, they must enter Game 1 with a new look and take Boston by surprise. This task falls to Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff, whose reputation as a playoff coach is still underwhelming at best. Cleveland has shown they have the tools to succeed and the depth to elevate their starters. In Round 1, the Cavs' bench fell behind their expected production. Bickerstaff took responsibility for sixth man Caris LeVert's poor series, but he cannot enter the Eastern Semifinals without answers for the bench's regression.

Adjustment No. 1 - Pair Sam Merrill with Donovan Mitchell

In the first round, Donovan Mitchell and flamethrower Sam Merrill only played a total of 17 minutes together. Merrill's best two-man lineup during the regular season with at least 100 minutes together was himself and Mitchell, recording a 9.4 net rating. When the Cavaliers lost Darius Garland and Evan Mobley to lengthy injuries, they leaned on their bench shooting and a high-octane offense to overcome opponents.

Since Garland's return, Merrill has rarely seen the court. Merrill and Garland spent more time on the court together than Merrill and Mitchell, but they ended with a poor -2.7 net rating. This has kept the sharpshooter from developing the same level of chemistry on the court with Garland as he has created with Mitchell.

Against the Celtics, the Cavaliers are bound to be in a shootout from the opening tip. The Celtics recorded and made the most three-pointers of any team in the NBA this season. Even with Kristaps Porzingis unlikely to return to action in this series, Boston will look to punish any late perimeter rotations from the Cavs. The Celtics are only going to miss so many times before they go on a streak from the arc. If the Cavaliers hope to keep pace, they need to put out their best shooting lineups, and those include Mitchell and Merrill together.

From pin down actions and a game of hot potato with each other as they go past constant screens by Allen or Mobley, Mitchell and Merill often find open shots for one another and pester the opposing defense. With Jrue Holiday and Derrick White leading the Boston backcourt rotation, the Cavs' best chance to score from deep will come from Merrill's lightning fast release and Mitchell's quick decision making.

Merrill is not the defender Isaac Okoro is, but putting him next to Mitchell and three versatile defenders allows him to focus on what makes him special - shooting and more shooting. The Cavaliers need to emphasize their versatile options on offense. Sam does not need to average 25 or more minutes per game. In Game 7, he spurred a second quarter comeback with eight quick points in just 11 minutes all game. Unsurprisingly, one of Merrill's two three-pointers came from a decisive Mitchell assist. A quick jolt of life from Merrill might be exactly what the Cavaliers need to build momentum and snowball into stealing Game 1 from the Celtics.