The season finally has arrived and the Celtics and Cavaliers meet for the first of 3 drama filled games this season. They will meet on January 3 and February 11, with both games in Boston. Since they last met in the Eastern Conference Finals, both teams have undergone a great deal of change. The Celtics return just 4 players from last year's team while the Cavs have 7 players returning.
The biggest story line comes from the blockbuster trade that sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic to Cleveland with Kyrie Irving coming to the Celtics. Since the trade, there has been a constant flow of jabs from Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and the Cavs toward Boston and from Kyrie toward Cleveland which has both teams more than ready to clash.
The Cavs went 1-4 in the preseason. LeBron James injured his ankle before their first game and missed the first 3 games, which the Cavs lost. He returned to the court for the 4th game, which they also lost, but he aggravated the injury and sat out the final game, which the Cavs won. He was able to participate in today’s shoot around but is still listed as a game time decision.
LeBron has not missed a game on opening night in 14 years and so the expectation is that he will suit up for this one. Tyronn Lue said that he believed that LeBron would want to play because of all that was on the line but he also said that they won't take any chances with their star. If LeBron can't play, JR Smith will likely take his place.
Aron Baynes injured his knee in the second game against Philadelphia and missed the final 2 preseason games. He participated fully in practice on Sunday and is probable for this game. Even though this is just the first game of the season and neither team has had time to build chemistry with all of their new players, there is a lot of pride on the line for both teams.
The Cavs have said that they will show a tribute video for Kyrie before the game. The crowd may give him a nice reception during the video, but after that, the gloves should come off and the boos will start. Hopefully, the boos will motivate Kyrie to play even harder. There will likely be tempers flaring and hard fouls on the way to a hard fought victory.
Celtics Probable Starters
Aron Baynes (knee) probable
Marcus Morris (knee) out
Cavaliers Probable Starters
LeBron James (ankle) game time decision
Isaiah Thomas (hip) out
Kyrie Irving vs Derrick Rose
We can expect Kyrie to try his best to beat his former team and hopefully he doesn't try too hard and struggles. Derrick Rose is trying to get a big contract at the end of this season and a good way to get started would be to have a big game to help beat the Celtics. The Knicks were outscored by 3.9 points per 100 possessions last season when Rose was on the court. He has lost a step since his MVP season but is working hard to regain his quickness and athleticism. This will be a very important matchup and will go a long way toward determining the winner of this game.
Gordon Hayward vs LeBron James
At this point, I am assuming that LeBron will play in this game, but it's possible that by game time, this matchup could be Hayward vs JR Smith. Hayward is an underrated defender and this will be a big test of his defensive abilities. It is also possible that Jaylen Brown will cover LeBron for part of the game since he had success guarding him in the playoffs last year.
Jayson Tatum vs Jae Crowder
Jae is going to be very motivated to get revenge against the team that he feels treated him unfairly. Like Isaiah, he felt that the Celtics did not handle the trade very well. Jae is very competitive normally and will be even more so in this game, wanting to beat his former team. Jayson has started most of the preseason games and will likely start this game as well. Hopefully he will be up to the task of playing against a very motivated Jae Crowder.
Keys to the Game
Defense Defense Defense!! Defense is key to winning every game. Defense is tough for a team who hasn't played together to master but the Celtics seemed to do a good job in the preseason. But, now the games are for real and hopefully so is their defense.
Rebound - The Celtics can't score if they don't have the ball. This was the Celtics' biggest weakness last season but the team has more length and more athleticism this season and hopefully that will translate to better rebounding. Much of rebounding is effort and so the Celtics have to work hard to beat the Cavs on the boards.
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.
Focus - The Celtics have to remain focused and block out the distractions of playing on the road. The Cavs fans will be very loud and will be hostile after Kyrie's comments about Boston being a "real sports city." The Celtics have to use the boos as motivation and not allow them to shake their focus.
Chemistry - Both teams have quite a few new players and both teams are looking to build chemistry quickly. The team that succeeds in gelling quicker will have a distinct advantage in this game.
Nerves - This is a big game and both teams have been looking forward to it for some time. The Celtics have a lot of young players on their team and they will be seeing their first real NBA action. It isn't a stretch to believe that they will have some jitters and how well they handle them will go a long way toward getting a win.
Age vs Youth - The Celtics have a very young team. They have an average age of 25.1 with 5 rookies on the roster, including one in the starting lineup. The Cavs on the other hand have an average age of 30.1 with just 2 rookies on the team. Can the Celtics youth wear out the older Cavaliers or will the experience of the older Cavaliers overwhelm the younger Celtics?