The Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2nd of 4 meetings this season. The Celtics won the first matchup 128-95 on November 30 in Boston. They will meet two more times on February 5 and again on March 26 with both games taking place in Cleveland.
The Celtics remain in 5th place in the East, 5.5 games behind first place Milwaukee, who are just percentage points ahead of the Toronto Raptors, and 1.5 games behind 4th place Philadelphia. The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games and 18-5 at home. They have won their last 4 games.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are in last place in not just the East, but the entire league. They are 4-21 on the road. They are 1-9 in their last 10 games and have lost their last 4 games. The Celtics have won 9 straight at home, going back to December 23 against the Charlotte Hornets.
The Cavs are shorthanded with 6 players on the injured list. John Henson (wrist), Kevin Love (foot), Larry Nance, Jr. (knee), David Nwaba (ankle) and Tristan Thompson (foot) are all listed as out. JR Smith is such a head case he’s not even with the team. The Celtics have just Jabari Bird (personal), Al Horford (rest), and Kyrie Irving (flu-like symptoms) out.
I’m going to assume that Brad Stevens will simply replace Al Horford in the starting lineup with Aron Baynes, who should match up very well with Ante Zizic, who is starting for the Cavs with Thompson out. He may surprise me and go with a small ball starting lineup but I don’t think so. Terry Rozier will likely start in Kyrie’s place.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jabari Bird (personal) out
Al Horford (rest) out
Kyrie Irving (flu like symptoms) out
Two Way Players
P. J. Dozier
John Henson (wrist) out
Kevin Love (foot) out
Larry Nance, Jr. (knee) out
David Nwaba (ankle) out
Tristan Thompson (foot) out
JR Smith (head case) Not with team
Two Way Players
Terry Rozier vs Collin Sexton
One of the key parts of the trade that brought Kyrie from the Cavs to the Celtics was the Nets draft pick. That pick became Collin Sexton. Sexton is averaging 14.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. With Kyrie getting the night off, this will be a good chance for Terry Rozier to get his game back on track.
Jayson Tatum vs Rodney Hood
Jayson Tatum will find Rodney Hood a much easier cover than the Cavs former small forward. Hood is averaging 12.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. Tatum has been fairly consistent lately and hopefully we will see more of the same in this game.
Celtics Bench vs Cavaliers Bench
The Cavaliers reserves have been averaging 44.0 points per game, which is 5th in the league. They may not be winning, but their bench has been solid. The Celtics bench, on the other hand, has been struggling. They have given up leads in the past two games causing Brad Stevens to rush the starters back to win the games. It would be nice to see the Celtics reserves get on track and build some momentum going into their game against the Warriors on Saturday.
Keys to the Game
Defense As always, defense is the key to every single game. The Celtics’ defense has been up and down but they 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. They can’t let up and figure they can win just with their offense. Defense is the key!!!!!
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. When the Celtics put out the extra effort needed to win the rebounding battle, that usually translates to the rest of the game. They will need to work harder on the boards to get the win.
Move the Ball Carefully - 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. But, they have to be careful with their passes. They are averaging just 13.4 turnovers (4th best) but over their last 4 games they are averaging 16.3 turnovers. They have to take care of the ball and at the same time keep it moving.
Start Strong and Don’t Let Up - The Celtics seem to always play down to their competition. They trailed the lowly Hawks by 16 before finally rallying to get the win. They allowed the Heat to cut a 22 point lead to just 5 before getting the win. Allowing the sub .500 teams to hang around will sometimes come back to bite them. They need to start out strong and play hard right up until the final buzzer.
Home Court - The Celtics are playing in the second of a 5 game home stand. They have played well at home with 18 wins to just 5 losses. I would say that the Cavs play worse on the road, but they are just as bad at home. The Celtics need to continue to draw motivation and energy from the home crowd and protect their home court.
Trap Game - This shouldn’t be a trap game with as bad as the Cavaliers are and as short handed as they are, but the Celtics have a way of underestimating teams, even teams as bad as the Cavs. Even with Al and Kyrie out, the Celtics should be able to easily put the Cavs away. The Celtics will hopefully take the Cavs seriously and will dominate this game. However, never underestimate the opponent’s desire to beat the Celtics, even if they are tanking, or the Celtics ability to play down to a weaker opponent.