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Celtics host Cavaliers in a battle for first place in the East

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The Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 4th and final meeting this season. They enter the game with identical records and the first seed in the East is on the line, although both teams insist that it's just one of 82 and nothing special.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland Cavaliers (50-27) at Boston Celtics (50-27)
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
8:00 PM ET
Regular Season Game #78, Home Game #39
TV: ESPN, FSO
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, WTAM
TD Garden
Referees: Marc Davis, Nick Buchert, Tyler Ford
The Celtics host the Cavaliers for the 4th and final meeting this season. The Cavaliers lead the series 2-1 after winning 128-122 on 11/3 and 124-118 on 12/29 with both games in Cleveland. The Celtics were without Kelly, Al and Jae in the first meeting and were pretty much at full strength for the second meeting. The Celtics then returned the favor on March 1, beating the Cavaliers 103-99 in Boston. The Cavs were without Kevin Love and JR Smith in the third game while the Celtics were missing only Gerald Green.

The Cavaliers are playing on the second night of back to back games, beating the Magic at home on Tuesday night. LeBron played 37 minutes while Kyrie Irving played 30 minutes. All others played fewer than 30 minutes. The Cavs are 6-10 on the second night of back to back games but only 1-9 when the second game is on the road. They also played a double OT game against the Pacers on Sunday in which LeBron played 57 minutes. The Celtics should be rested after last playing on Sunday afternoon with everyone playing less than 28 minutes. However, the Celtics are just 4-8 when they play after 2 days rest.

The Celtics have a 2 game win streak while the Cavs have a 3 game win streak. The Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10 games while the Cavs are 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are 28-10 at home while the Cavaliers are 19-19 on the road. Cleveland is 15-1 against Atlantic Division teams, with that one loss from the Celtics.

Tristan Thompson didn't travel with team and is out with a thumb injury that he suffered in Tuesday's game vs the Magic. I'm guessing that Channing Frye will start in his place but we may see some of Larry Sanders in this one. Kyle Korver played just 11 minutes against the Magic in his return from a foot injury. Avery Bradley had a good practice on Tuesday and is expected to play in this game. Jae Crowder missed practice with the elbow injury that he suffered against the Knicks. He did shoot some after practice but the elbow is still sore and slightly swollen. He didn't rule out playing in this one but will be a game time decision.

Standings Reset
Cleveland beat the Magic on Tuesday to pull into a tie with the Celtics. However, they slid back into first place by virtue of holding the tie breaker. That makes this game very important to both teams. If the Cavs win this one they will hold the tie breaker should they finish tied. If the Celtics win, they have a chance to win the tiebreaker with the conference record. .

The Wizards won on Tuesday as well, beating the Hornets to remain 3.5 games behind the Celtics. The Raptors lost to the Pacers on Tuesday and dropped to 3.5 games behind the Celtics as well. Toronto moves back into 3rd by virtue of owning the tie breaker over the Wizards. Milwaukee is 5th, 10 games behind the Celtics. Checking on the Celtics' draft pick, the Nets beat the Sixers 141-118.

Games to Watch: 4/5 Toronto at Detroit 4/6 Washington at New York Knicks



Probable Starters

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


C: Al Horford


SF: Jae Crowder ............................................ PF: Amir Johnson

Celtics Reserves
Demetrius Jackson
Jordan Mickey
Terry Rozier
James Young
Tyler Zeller
Marcus Smart
Kelly Olynyk
Jonas Jerebko
Jaylen Brown
Gerald Green

Injuries
Avery Bradley (illness) probable
Jae Crowder (elbow) game time decision

Head Coach
Brad Stevens


Probable Starters

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


C: Channing Frye

SF: LeBron James................. PF: Kevin Love
Cavs Reserves
Kyle Korver
Kay Felder
Channing Frye
James Jones
DeAndre Liggins
Jordan McRae
Deron Williams
Derrick Williams
Iman Shumpert
Richard Jefferson
Larry Sanders

Injuries
Tristan Thompson (thumb) out

Head Coach
Tyron Lue

Key Matchups
vs
Jae Crowder vs LeBron James
James is averaging 26.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists and shooting 54% from the field. Jae has been effective against LeBron in the past but he is a game time decision for this game. In 44 regular season games vs the Celtics, James has averaged 29.5 points, his highest average against any team. He scored 30 points in the first meeting between these two teams and 23 in their second meeting and 28 in the third. If Jae can't play, then possibly Jaylen Brown or Jonas Jerebko may start in his place.

vs
Isaiah Thomas vs Kyrie Irving
Irving is averaging 25.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists In the first three games against the Celtics he averaged 29 points and 10 rebounds. The Cavs have so many weapons it will be tough to stop them all but Irving is one of the key players to try to slow down. Having Avery back would be big for the Celtics.

Honorable Mention
Amir Johnson vs Kevin Love
Love missed the Celtics win over the Cavaliers but is back again for this one. He is averaging 19.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists. In the 12/29 game, he had 30 points and 15 rebounds. It will be important to keep Love from having another big game in this one.

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. The Cavs are 4th in the league in scoring, averaging 110.5 points per game. The Celtics average 107.8 points per game and so they must play lock down defense and keep the hot shooting Cavs from scoring at will.

Rebound - The Celtics can't score if they don't have the ball. They 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 43.6 rebounds to 41.9 rebounds for the Celtics. The Celtics must rebound as a team with every player crashing the boards.

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. With the Cavs playing a double OT game on Sunday and a game plus travel on Tuesday, the Celtics may be able to wear them down.

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. The Cavs may have more stars, but the Celtics have to be the team that wins by playing harder.

Stay Focused - The Celtics have been careless with the ball in several recent games. They have to be more careful and focus on making crisp passes and stay focused when dribbling and not allow the Cavs to intercept their passes or steal the ball off the dribble. The Celtics must stay focused and not get sloppy with the ball.

X-Factors
Jae Crowder - Jae has been fairly effective in guarding LeBron in the past. LeBron has a net rating of -15.8 and an eFG% of 51.6 with Jae on the court this season. He has a net rating of +19 and an eFG% of 71.4 when Jae is off the court. If Jae can't play, it makes the job of trying to limit LeBron much harder. However, it is more important for Jae to be healthy for the playoffs than for him to play in this one game if there's any doubt about his elbow.

Players Sitting - Tyronn Lue has said that he doesn't plan to sit starters for this game, but with the Thompson injury, he may change his mind. If the Cavs do plan to sit their stars because of it being back to back and having played in double OT on Sunday then it may be good news or bad news. Sometimes when other teams are short handed the Celtics slack off and end up with a loss. However, if they could stay motivated then they should be able to get a win against a short handed 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. The Celtics must play through it and not let the officials take them out of the game.
Ref Alert: Marc Davis is the lead official and in the past, he has been terrible. This season he called the game against the Spurs completely one sided with the Spurs shooting 25 free throws to just 9 for the Celtics. In an LA Times survey in 2016, Davis was voted one of the worst refs in the league by the players and coaches.