The Celtics and Cavaliers meet for the second of three games this season, and the first played at the TD Garden. They played on opening night in Cleveland on 10/17 and just 5 plus minutes into the game they lost their star free agent, Gordon Hayward, to a gruesome ankle injury. In spite of being rattled by that injury and falling behind by 18, the Celtics came back to lose by just 3 points.
They will play for the 3rd and final time in the regular season on February 11, which is the night that the Celtics have set aside to honor Paul Pierce and retire his number. Isaiah Thomas played his first game as a Cavalier on Tuesday night against Portland but will not play in this game. IT's return helped the Cavs get a 127-110 win over Portland with Isaiah scoring 17 points in 18 minutes of play.
He has asked the Celtics not to play a tribute video for him in this game since he can't play. That leaves Paul Pierce's night for an Isaiah Thomas tribute as well. Isaiah should get a standing ovation and a warm welcome from the Celtics fans at the Garden in spite of not playing. Even though Isaiah has been very critical of Danny Ainge and the Celtics leadership, he has always shown love for his former teammates as well as for Celtics fans.
Also returning to the Garden for the first time since being traded in the off season is Jae Crowder. Jae also gave his all for the Celtics each time he took the court. He should also get a warm welcome from the crowd. He is still a little hurt by the fact that Celtics fans cheered for Gordon Hayward when he came to Boston and mentioned that since Celtics fans cheer for opposing players they should at least cheer for him. Although, many Celtics fans blame Crowder, at least in part, for Hayward's injury. In an ironic twist, it was exactly one year ago that Hayward was cheered by the Garden crowd as a visitor. It should be an interesting night.
The Cavaliers are playing in the second of back to back games while the Celtics have had 2 days rest for the second time in as many games. The Celtics are 16-5 at home while the Cavaliers are 10-8 on the road. Both teams are 6-4 in their last 10 games. The Celtics have won their last 3 games while the Cavs lost 3 straight before Tuesday's win over the Blazers.
Marcus Morris' knee seems to be back to normal and should play in this game. Semi Ojeleye has missed the past 4 games and is a game time decision for this game. Derrick Rose is still out for the Cavs with an ankle injury. Iman Shumpert is out with a knee injury and Isaiah will sit out for rest.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Marcus Morris start in place of Aron Baynes because Al Horford would match up much better with Kevin Love than Baynes would. I imagine it will depend on whether Morris' knee is close to 100% because it would defeat the purpose of starting him if he can't move well because of lingering soreness in the knee.
Probable Celtics Starters
Semi Ojeleye (back) game time decision
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Two Way Players
Probable Cavaliers Starters
Isaiah Thomas (rest) out
Iman Shumpert (knee) out
Derrick Rose (ankle) out
Two Way Players
Jayson Tatum vs LeBron James
The rookie will find himself in the unenviable position of having to slow down LeBron, who is averaging 27.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 9.2 assists while shooting 55.9% from the field. It is also possible that Marcus Morris or Jaylen Brown will cover LeBron for part of the game since both have had success in the past.
Aron Baynes vs Kevin Love
Baynes isn't the strongest defender when it comes to stretch 5's like Love. As stated above, we may see Marcus Morris start at power forward once again with Al Horford at center to cover Love. Love is averaging 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He is also shooting 40.9% from beyond the arc, so they have to stay with him whether he is in the paint or on the perimeter.
Marcus Smart vs Dwyane Wade
Wade has played well since going to the bench. He, like Smart, comes off the bench and is usually on the court at the end of the game. Wade is averaging 11.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He is shooting 44% from the field and 36.5% from beyond the arc.
Player to Watch
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 in front of their home crowd.
Keys to the Game
Defense Defense Defense!! Defense is key to winning every game. The Cavs are 5th in the league averaging 110.1 points while the Celtics are 21st averaging just 103.5 points. The Celtics need to clamp down on defense if they want to get a win. The Celtics are still first in the league with a defensive rating of 100.8 while the Cavs are 28th with a defensive rating of 108.7. If the Celtics win this game, it will be with 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 rebounded well to begin the season but have slacked off a bit recently. Much of rebounding is effort and so the Celtics have to work hard to beat the Cavs to rebounds. The Cavs are averaging 41.8 rebounds while the Celtics are averaging 44.0 rebounds. If the Celtics put out effort, they can win the rebounding battle.
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. The more aggressive team will usually get the benefit of the doubt from the refs as well. 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 the Cavs, who everyone feels is the team to beat in the East. They have to focus on taking good shots and they have to make them. They have to focus on taking the Cavs out of their comfort zone and out of their game. They can't let all the hoopla over IT and Jae returning take away their focus on playing Celtics basketball.
Bench Play - The Celtics will need to get contributions from their bench on both ends of the court. The Cavs have a veteran bench that can put up a lot of points. The Cavs reserves outscored the Blazers' reserves 61-23 on Tuesday night. The Celtics need to get scoring from their bench but they also need defense to limit the Cavs' scoring.
Fatigue - The Celtics finally have had some rest between games. The Cavs, on the other hand, played the Trailblazers on Tuesday night and had to travel afterwards. Unfortunately, the Cavs starters were able to keep their minutes all under 33 minutes. The Celtics should be the more rested team, however and need to take advantage of that.
Home Game - The Celtics have the advantage of playing at home in front of what should be a very loud crowd. The Celtics have to get motivation and energy from the crowd and hopefully the crowd will be able to frustrate the Cavs at the same time.
Motivation - Kyrie and the Celtics will also want to get the win to prove that Kyrie made the right decision to leave the Cavs and beat his former team. The Celtics should also be motivated to avenge their opening night loss and the play that ended Gordon Hayward's season. They also should be motivated to show that being the top seed in the East isn't a fluke and that they deserve to be there. Whose motivation will be stronger?