The Boston Celtics know nobody expects them to make the NBA Finals. Their Eastern Conference finals opponents are the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, who haven't played in more than a week and haven't lost in more than a month. The Cavaliers paced themselves through the regular season and have found another gear in the playoffs. The Celtics earned the No. 1 seed in large part because they always play hard and coach Brad Stevens looks to exploit every possible edge.

None of our CBS Sports writers predicted Boston would take more than one game. It is a massive underdog despite owning home-court advantage. The last time these two played, Cleveland was down a starter and won 114-91.

Now that we've acknowledged all that, let's ponder what it would look like if the Celtics were to actually challenge the Cavs. Just because the Toronto Raptors failed to live up to expectations doesn't necessarily mean Boston will do the same. Here's how the Celtics can make things interesting:

The point guard battle

Isaiah Thomas needs to be better than Kyrie Irving, and not by a small margin. Thomas has been the best story of the playoffs, and his battle with John Wall was the most fun part of the second round. Now, when the first and last picks of the 2011 draft meet, Thomas needs to keep looking like a superstar.

They won't always be matched up. Boston almost certainly will use Avery Bradley as Irving's primary defender, with Thomas hiding on J.R. Smith. Bradley will have to limit Irving. If Irving guards Thomas, then Thomas has to make him work.

Do not judge Thomas and Irving by only their scoring numbers. While they are attacking, score-first point guards, they also are responsible for keeping their offenses flowing. Thomas dealt with aggressive traps after going off for 53 points in Game 2 against the Washington Wizards, and Irving averaged 8.5 assists in four games against the Raptors. If either is rendered one-dimensional, the defense has won. 

3-point shooting

For the second straight postseason, the Cavaliers have stormed through the East with incredible shooting. Last year, they shot 77 of 152 from deep in four games against the Atlanta Hawks. This time, they shot 61 of 131 in four games against Toronto. While these numbers seem unsustainable, they are no fluke. Cleveland is an even better shooting team on paper this season because of the addition of Kyle Korver, and James has shot 46.8 percent from deep in the playoffs. 

If the Cavs shoot like that, they are almost unbeatable. It's hard for most teams to even generate the number of 3-pointers they do, let alone make them at a similar clip. But Boston is not ordinary in this respect. It has attempted 34.9 3-pointers per game during the playoffs -- even more than Cleveland -- and made 37.4 percent, 40.9 percent vs. Washington.

The Celtics are going to have a tough time closing out to the Cavs' sharpshooters, just like everybody else. If they are to have a chance, they need to make Cleveland do the same thing. Stevens will make sure the floor is spaced, but the players still have to knock the shots down. It would help if Al Horford continued to make 58.3 percent of his 3s, as he did in the first two rounds. 

Ball movement, player movement

Boston has to make the Cavaliers look like the poor defensive team they were most of the season. This is best accomplished by involving Irving and Kevin Love in as many pick-and-rolls as possible. Thomas and Horford have great chemistry running the high pick-and-roll, and they're usually surrounded by shooters so they can do this in space. If the Cavs elect to send multiple defenders at Thomas, then the Celtics must move the ball and use that strategy against them.

It's not just about targeting Love and, say, Channing Frye. Even though Tristan Thompson is good at switching onto smaller players, drawing him away from the basket can create scoring opportunities inside. Boston needs to force Cleveland to continually make decisions, and the best way to do that is to keep the ball moving. No team in the playoffs averages more passes, assists or potential assists, per's SportVU statistics. 

Selective running

The Cavs were the worst team in the league in the regular season when it came to transition defense, and while they've been much better during the playoffs, Boston still should try to exploit it. The Celtics don't force a ton of turnovers, but think about the energy and desperation they showed in Game 5 against the Wizards. They need more of that; if there are opportunities to push the pace and get easy baskets, they have to take advantage of them.