The series now shifts back to the TD Garden. So far, both teams have held serve on their home court. The Celtics won Games 1 and 2 at the Garden while the Cavs won Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland. The Celtics are perfect at home so far in these playoffs and will need to stay that way if they want a chance to get to the Finals.
Game 5 is pivotal and is pretty much a must win for both teams. A win for the Celtics puts them up 3-2 and with two chances to win including another home game if they once again fall flat in Cleveland. But, a loss puts them behind 2-3 and that makes Game 6 in Cleveland a must win for a team that is just 1-6 on the road so far in these playoffs.
Both coaches will likely look to make adjustments going into this game to keep the other off balance. The biggest adjustment will need to come from the players, however. The Celtics will need to rediscover their aggressiveness and grit and energy that have been missing when they play on the road. They need to play tougher defense and adjust to the increased defense by the Cavs.
The Celtics have been underdogs in pretty much every game in these playoffs and that isn’t changing in this game. They opened as 1 point home underdogs to the Cavaliers. That has motivated them in the past and hopefully will do so in this game as well. Charles Barkley has picked the winner of this game to win in 7. And since he has been wrong in every one of his predictions so far, who knows what that means.
The starting lineups below are the ones listed in the teams’ game guides. Brad Stevens has once again said that he is considering a lineup change but won’t tip his hat until just before game time. He hasn’t changed his starters in the series in games 1-4 but he may want to consider starting Marcus Smart in place of Rozier since the Rozier switches onto James have been devastating so far. Also, Horford struggles on Thompson and a possible swap of Baynes for Morris in the starting 5 may work.
The Celtics are still missing Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Daniel Theis. Shane Larkin has been missing since the series against the Sixers and Brad Stevens has said that we might see him sometime in this series. It probably won’t be in Game 5, however, since he is listed as doubtful for this game. The Cavs remain at full strength.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Shane Larkin (shoulder) doubtful
Probable Cavaliers Starters
Larry Nance Jr
Al Horford vs LeBron James
Marcus Morris did a great job in limiting LeBron to 15 points on 31% shooting and 0-5 from beyond the arc. Since then, he has pretty much had his way with the Celtics, doing whatever he wanted to. The Celtics have tried Horford, Smart, Rozier, Brown and others to slow him but the best bet still remains Marcus Morris. The switches with Rozier guarding him have not been good and so it would be good to have Smart play more as he has had more success. I’m thinking with Baynes back in the starting lineup, Horford may get the job of guarding him at first, or it may be Jaylen Brown.
Al Horford vs Tristan Thompson
Thompson has won this matchup vs Al Horford in the two games in Cleveland. Brad has swapped Baynes and Morris in the starting lineup and this should be better for the Celtics as Baynes is stronger and hopefully can keep Thompson off the boards where he has been very dangerous.
Jaylen Brown vs JR Smith
After being basically invisible in Games 1 and 2, Smith came alive and stepped up on both ends of the court in Cleveland in Games 3 and 4. He scored 11 and 9 points, but more importantly, he played defense and made it difficult for Brown and Tatum to get into any kind of rhythm. The Celtics need Tatum and Brown to win their matchups to win this game.
Celtics Bench vs Cavaliers Bench
The Celtics reserves played well in Boston but poorly in Cleveland. The Cavs reserves played poorly in Boston and well in Cleveland. This need to hold true in this game as well. The Celtics reserves need to step up and play hard and give the Celtics a boost. Hopefully the Cavs reserves will go back to struggling in front of the Celtics loud crowd at the Garden.
Keys to the Game
Defense As always, defense is the key to every single game. The Celtics won Games 1 and 2 with their swarming lock down defense, holding the Cavs to 83 and 94 points. They lost Games 3 and 4 in part because they were not engaged on the defensive end and allowed the Cavs to get to the hoop at will. The Celtics MUST communicate and they have to play tough lock down defense both in the paint and on the perimeter if they want to win this game.
Rebound - Rebounding is second to defense in importance for the Celtics to get a win. Much of rebounding is effort and so the Celtics have to work hard to beat the Cavs to rebounds. The Celtics won the rebounding battle in both wins and lost it in both losses. That isn’t a coincidence. The Celtics have to out-work the Cavs on the boards in order to get a win in Game 5.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics were the more aggressive team in the first two games. That changed in Cleveland in Games 3 and 4. The Celtics seemed to be passive and the Cavs were more physical and aggressive. The Celtics have to get back to playing harder and being the more aggressive team. They can’t allow the Cavs to outwork them.
Control LeBron’s Supporting Cast - It’s almost impossible to stop a player like LeBron who gets the benefit of most of the calls and can drive and dip his shoulder into any defenders as he goes to the basket. In the first two games, the Celtics were able to stop players other than LeBron from getting open looks and from being effective. In Games 3 and 4, players other than LeBron hit baskets, rebounded and defended. That can’t happen if the Celtics want to win. The Celtics must limit the Cavs role players.
Start Strong - The Celtics had 2 very bad first quarters in Cleveland falling into a deep hole right from the beginning. The first 4 games were pretty much won in the first quarter. In Game 4, the Celtics outscored the Cavs in quarters 2-4 but still lost by 9. The Celtics shot just 27% in the first quarter including 3 missed dunks and several layups. The Celtics MUST come out focused and play well right from the start.
Move the Ball - The Celtics get into trouble when they take quick shots and don’t move the ball enough to get the defense out of position. Their assists are usually down in their losses and up in their wins. The Celtics have to move the ball and find the open man. Hero ball doesn’t win games. They have to get back to moving the ball and finding the best shots.
Focus and Energy - The Celtics lost focus and definitely lost their energy and aggressiveness in Cleveland. They have to get back to being the team that plays harder and they have to stay focused on playing Celtics basketball and carrying out the game plan. The Celtics need to come out focused and play like it is Game 7 to protect their home court.
Home Game - The Celtics have the advantage of playing at home in front of what should be another very loud crowd. The Celtics have to get motivation and energy from the crowd. Players mentioned the boost they got from the crowd in Games 1 and 2 and hopefully they will get that same boost in this game. The Cavs have the momentum but hopefully the crowd will swing it back to the Celtics.
Officiating - The officiating is always an x-factor. In some games so far the officiating was very good and they let both teams play and let some contact go both ways but didn’t let it get out of hand. In some others the refs were not good and called it more one sided. As far as crews go, this one isn’t the worst. Hopefully the refs will call it evenly and let them play.
The lead official, Ken Mauer, can be good or bad depending on the game. As with most of the refs in the playoffs, he isn’t swayed by the crowd. However, Mauer is known to carry grudges and often calls games with an agenda. He is quick to call technicals and one time he called 5 techs in 10 seconds in a Wolves game. His home W/L record this season is 34-31. He calls an average of 39.6 fouls per game with 49.7% of those against the home team. He called Game 5 vs the Bucks. The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games with Mauer while the Cavs are 7-3 in their last 10.
Ed Malloy usually isn’t a tyrant with the whistle and for the most part lets teams play, averaging 40.1 foul calls per game with 49.1% of those against the home team. At times he has been quick to call technicals. His home W/L record this season is 40-28. The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games with Malloy while the Cavs are 4-6 in their last 10. He called Game 1 vs the 76ers and Game 4 vs the Bucks. Hopefully the “good” Ed Malloy will show up for this game.
Jason Phillips was on the crew that called Game 1 vs the Bucks and Game 2 vs the 76ers. His home W/L record is 24-14. The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games with Phillips while the Cavs are 6-4 in their last 10. He calls 38.8 fouls per game with 49.1% of those called on the home team.