Boston Celtics (29-8) at Cleveland Cavaliers (28-6)
Friday, January 9
8:00 PM ET
Game #37, Road Game #18
TV: ESPN, FS Ohio HD, CSN HD
Quicken Loans Arena
This game is not just another game. The fans know that. The players know that. The Cavaliers are the Celtics biggest competition at this point for home court advantage and for the Eastern Conference championship. With the Celtics struggling, the Cavs have moved into first place in the east by half a game. A win here would put the Celtics back in first place and give them a mental advantage over the Cavs. A win for the Cavs would put them up 1.5 games over the Celtics and give them the mental advantage. Let's not forget the Magic, who are just half a game behind the Celtics and so the Celtics could fall into 3rd place, not just second. This is a big game and both teams know it.
These two teams last met on opening night when the Cavs visited the Garden and came away with a 90-85 loss. Both teams started off strong and the Cavs continue to play very well while the Celtics have been slumping. The Cavs are 18-0 at home and the Celtics are 11-6 on the road. Boston has lost six straight regular-season games in Cleveland, its last win there was on Dec. 15, 2005.
The Cavs have taken a page out of the Celtics' Championship book and have been beating teams with defense. They are holding opponents to NBA lows of 89.2 points and 41.5% shooting on their home court. They rank number 1 over all in points allowed at 89.4, so they are playing well both at home and on the road. The Celtics struggles on the road have been well documented and they must get their defensive swagger and their team play and aggressiveness back if they hope to win this game. If not, it could be a very ugly loss for the green.
Coach: Doc Rivers
Average Age: 26.6
Average Height: 6-6
Average Weight: 222
PG: Rajon Rondo PPG 10.9 RPG 4.70 APG 7.5
SG: Ray Allen PPG 17.7 RPG 3.50 APG 2.8
SF: Paul Pierce PPG 19.5 RPG 5.60 APG 3.7
PF: Kevin Garnett PPG 16.1 RPG 8.90 APG 2.6
C: Kendrick Perkins PPG 8.7 RPG 8.30 BPG 1.8
Tony Allen (ankle) out
Kevin Garnett (leg) will play
Coach: Mike Brown
Average Age: 27.0
Average Height: 6-7
Average Weight: 227
PG: Mo Williams PPG 15.7 RPG 3.30 APG 4.1
SG: Delonte West PPG 12.2 RPG 3.00 APG 3.6
SF: LeBron James PPG 27.4 RPG 6.60 APG 6.6
PF: Ben Wallace PPG 3.3 RPG 7.10 APG 0.7
C: Anderson Varejao PPG 9.4 RPG 7.20 BPG .7
Eric Snow (knee) out
Zydrunas Ilgauskas (ankle) out
Matchups to Watch
The matchup between Paul Pierce and LeBron James is always an entertaining one and is one of the best matchups in the league. Pierce is one of the few Celtics who has continued to play at a high level during the Celtics' recent slump. You know that LeBron is going to be hyped for this game and hopefully Pierce will be as well.
Rondo has been struggling lately and that could be part of the reason for the team's struggles. Rondo outplayed Williams in their first matchup on opening night but Williams has had a couple of months to get more familiar with the Cavs' system and I am sure he is hoping to turn the tables and get the better of Rondo in this game.
Kevin Garnett vs Ben Wallace
Wallace is typically not an offensive and so KG won't have to work quite as hard on the defensive end. KG has been starting off great in games but seems to fade by the end. Hopefully he can put in a good game from start to finish in this one.
Keys to the Game
Defense, Defense, Defense - The Celtics have abandoned the defense that made them so successful last season and during their win streak this season. That defense has been missing during their current slump. The Cavs are averaging 105.5 points at home and so the Celtics must find their defensive intensity once more. They can't allow the Cavs to get to the basket at will and they must also defend the perimeter as the Cavs are a good 3 point shooting team. Defense is going to make the difference in this game. The Cavs will be playing it and it is up to the Celtics to get back to playing it as well.
Limit Turnovers The Cavs are second in the league in converting points off turnovers at 19.4 per game. (the Lakers are #1). The Celtics are dead last in committing turnovers per game and if they continue to turn the ball over at their league leading pace, teams like the Cavs will make them pay.
Rebound The Celtics were out rebounded by the Rockets and that shows a lack of effort on their part in battling inside and boxing out and getting position. Rebounding numbers indicate effort and desire and for the Celtics it hasn't been there. They must limit the Cavs second chance efforts and at the same time they have to get offensive rebounds to give themselves more opportunities to score.
Focus It seems that the Celtics have lost focus especially in the 4th quarter of recent games. When teams press them, when their shots stop falling, they seem to lose their focus and start tossing up jumpers instead of looking for the extra pass or taking the ball inside. They need to focus on team ball and not allow teams to take them out of their game.
Fatigue vs Desire
The Celtics are tired. The Cavs really, really want this game. Will the Cavs desire for the win and to cement their position in first place be greater than the Celtics' fatigue? Will the Celtics desire to beat their closest rival be greater than their aches, pains, and tiredness? We are about to find out.