There are a few different ways to look at Friday's Game 2 Eastern Conference Finals encounter between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics.
One is the trainwreck analogy, where one simply can't look away. Another is the idea of holding out hope the Celtics, after getting smacked around on their home court to open the series, will come out with more fire and make this a competitive series.
No matter which side of the fence one falls on, Friday's encounter should be a good time from a basketball standpoint. Either the Celtics will embrace the underdog role or LeBron James will put on another magical performance—onlookers win either way.
Here's a look at the crucial info surrounding Friday's schedule:
Matchup: Cleveland (-5) at Boston
Time (ET): 8:30 p.m.
National TV: TNT
Live Stream: TNTOvertime
The above odds come from OddsShark and tell quite the interesting tale—Cleveland is favored more going into Game 2 than they were the series opener (-3).
It seems oddsmakers have lost all faith in Celtics after one game, which makes plenty of sense. Game 1 was an ugly 117-104 affair in which LeBron dropped 38 points and Kevin Love was right behind him with 32. The Celtics had a few decent runs late, but the game was never close, and those runs with the game decided don't say much about Game 2.
Though suggesting the game was never close sounds hyperbolic, check out a note by ESPN Stats & Info:
That's borderline jaw dropping, though James casually said "I don't even think we played that great tonight," per ESPN.com's Chris Forsberg.
For various reasons, the beatdown wasn't exactly hard to see coming. For one, the Cavaliers were well rested after going undefeated through two series. Boston entered drained after needing six games to close out the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls and a full seven to get past the Washington Wizards.
Fatigue factor aside, the Cavaliers are a nightmare matchup for the Celtics. Al Horford is a scoring center, not a bang-the-glass sort of big man. Cleveland took full advantage of the mismatches underneath the basket, with Love getting his 32 alongside 12 rebounds while Tristan Thompson scored 20 with nine rebounds.
How does Boston counteract this in Game 2? It's hard to say, but head coach Brad Stevens is one of the better young minds in the sport, and his alterations are a big part of the reason the Celtics are still playing basketball right now.
Stevens can't necessarily do anything crazy about the disparity down low, but better game management and scoring from Isaiah Thomas would help after the star point guard only posted 17 points on 19 attempts while going 2-of-7 from deep. He simply never found a rhythm, and Cleveland's defense was more than happy to let other Celtics get open looks and force them to win the game.
"We can't panic. It's only one game," Thomas said, according to Forsberg. "One game. They took care of business, and we just gotta take care of business in Game 2."
Outside of general strategy, J.R. Smith said he expects a nastier version of the Celtics on Friday, per Jordan Heck of Omnisport (h/t Sporting News).
"So we just got to expect that and understand there might be some dirty plays, might be some cheap shots coming from the other side just because they are fighting for their lives at this point," Smith said.
The pressure is on the Celtics to make necessary changes and create a compelling series here—but Thomas is right in saying it's too early to overreact.
The Celtics even took a game over four tries against the Cavaliers during the regular season. It's not much solace, but the Celtics are at home, hungry, and been in a playoff hole before. Granted, they haven't faced a LeBron, but Boston isn't as deer-in-headlights as some might expect.
Call it a war of wills. The Cavaliers are sharp and want to close this thing out to match the pace of the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. The Celtics still want to prove the top seed wasn't simply a gift from the team that whipped them in Game 1.
Something has to give.