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Shorthanded Celtics look to hand Cavs their first loss

The shorthanded Celtics visit the unbeaten Cavaliers and look to hand them their first loss of the season.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics (3-1) at Cleveland Cavaliers (4-0)
Thursday, November 3, 2016
8:00 PM ET
Regular Season Game #5, Road Game #3
Radio: 100.7 WZLX
Quicken Loans Arena

Referees: Ed Malloy, Curtis Blair, Matt Boland

It’s only Nov. 2, but the Celtics are already playing in what could be their most difficult back to back set of the entire season. After a national TV game that didn't begin until 8:00 PM ET the Celtics have to fly to Cleveland to take on the undefeated Cavaliers in another nationally televised game.

The Celtics were without their prized free agent Al Horford for the Bulls game and will be short handed once again in this game with Horford still out with a concussion. Jae Crowder stepped on Rondo's foot at the end of the first half against the Bulls and will miss this game as well. Avery Bradley is playing at less than 100% with a sore shoulder and that makes these back to back games even harder. Marcus Smart is just coming back from an ankle injury and trying to get back to game shape.. The Cavaliers are pretty much at full strength.

This is the first of 4 meetings between the Celtics and the Cavaliers this season. The Celtics won 1 of their 3 meetings last season on an Avery Bradley last second game winning shot. In spite of the 4-0 record, the two teams aren't that far apart in terms of statistics. The Celtics are averaging 108.3 points to 105.3 for the Cavs. The Cavs have a slight advantage in rebounding pulling down 44.2 to 41.7 per game for the Celtics. The Celtics play at a 99.91 pace while the Cavs play at a 99.02 pace.

It will be tough facing the Cavs without Horford and especially Crowder. Tyler Zeller started in Horford's place against the Bulls and I'm going to guess that he will start again in this game. I'll guess that Marcus Smart will start in Crowder's place but Jaylen Brown could also be a possibility.. The Celtics will need to have every player come up big if they hope to get a win against a very tough Cavaliers team.

Probable Starters

PG: Isaiah Thomas ........................................ SG: Avery Bradley

C: Amir Johnson

SF: Marcus Smart ............................................ PF: Tyler Zeller

Celtics Reserves
Jaylen Brown
Gerald Green
Demetrius Jackson
Jordan Mickey
Terry Rozier
James Young
Jonas Jerebko

Kelly Olynyk (shoulder) out
Al Horford (concussion) out
Jae Crowder (ankle) out

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving ................ SG: JR Smith

C: Tristan Thompson

SF: LeBron James................. PF: Kevin Love
Cavs Reserves
Chris Andersen
Mike Dunleavy
Kay Felder
Channing Frye
Richard Jefferson
James Jones
DeAndre Liggins
Jordan McRae
Iman Shumpert

Mo Williams (knee) out

Head Coach
Tyron Lue

Key Matchups
Marcus Smart vs LeBron James
With Jae out, my guess is that Marcus Smart will get the call to try to slow down LeBron. Jaylen Brown may also face the challenge of guarding him at times as could Jonas Jerebkl. James is averaging 21 points, 8.3 rebounds and 10.0 assists. Whoever guards LeBron will certainly have their hands full trying to keep him from having a big game. Marcus has proved in spite of giving up some size he can guard bigger players. Jaylen has shown that he is able to play NBA level defense and Jonas has shown that he can bother Lebron with his size and quickness.

Isaiah Thomas vs Kyrie Irving
Irving is averaging 25 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists and LeBron has been touting his chances of being named MVP this year. He certainly has started off strong. The Cavs have so many weapons it will be tough to stop them all and Isaiah may need help from Avery and Marcus to keep Kyrie from having a huge game.

Honorable Mention
Amir Johnson vs Kevin Love
Love has settled into his role on the Cavs very nicely. He is averaging 20 points, 9 rebounds and 1.3 assists. With the Celtics being short handed in their front line with Horford out and Kelly Olynyk still not back, this may be a tough matchup.

Keys to the Game
Defense Defense Defense!! Defense is key to winning every game. The Celtics must concentrate on getting stops and keeping the Cavaliers from scoring at will. Having Marcus back on defense is a plus but they are going to miss Horford on defense.

Rebound - The Celtics must crash the boards as a team to prevent the Cavs from getting second chance and fast break points. They also need to rebound to give themselves extra possessions and to fuel their running game. The Cavs are averaging slightly more rebounds (44.2) than the Celtics (41.7) and the Celtics will need to put extra effort into beating the Cavs to the rebounds in this one. The Celtics and Cavs are 28th and 29th in defensive rebound rate respectively. The Celtics need to keep Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and LeBron James, who are good offensive rebounders, off the boards. If they can' they may be able to slow down a Cavs offense that is currently second in efficiency.

Run, Run, Run - The Celtics need to run on every possession in order to get some easy points before the Cavs defense sets up. When the Celtics walk the ball up and slow the game down they struggle. They have to run and they have to move the ball. The Cavs are a good defensive team and so the Celtics need to try to beat their defense up the court.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to beat the Cavs to every loose ball and win the 50/50 plays. They have to be aggressive on the boards and in driving into the paint and to the basket. They have to be the team that works harder and the team that wants it more.

Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have to play hard from the opening tip to the final buzzer. They can't afford to let the Cavs get a big lead because the Cavs are a very good defensive team and it won't be easy to dig out of a hole against them. They also can't let the Cavs back in it if they can manage to build a lead. They must play all out for all 48 minutes.

Injuries - With Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk out and Avery Bradley playing at less than 100%, the Celtics will need everyone to step their games up to another level in order to get a win against a very tough Cavs team.

Officiating - As always, the officiating is an x-factor. Every crew officiates differently and teams never know what to expect. Sometimes they let them play and other times they call a foul on every possession. Some games they call evenly and others they favor one team or the other. It's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolate... you never know what you are going to get. In most games against the Cavs, however, the Cavs seem to get the benefit of way too many calls.

Fatigue - The Celtics are playing in back to back games and had to travel late after a tough game on Wednesday. With them being short handed, fatigue may become a factor.

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