The Celtics return home to host the Cleveland Cavaliers for the only game between these two teams that is scheduled for the first half of the season. The Celtics come into the game on a 3 game losing streak, while the Cavaliers come in having won their last 3 games. The Celtics are 4-2 at home while the Cavs are 3-4 on the road.
Both teams are coming off of back to back series. The Cavs beat the Nets two games in a row while the Celtics lost to the 76ers in their last 2 games. The Celtics have fallen to 4th place, 2 games behind the 76ers. The Cavaliers are just half a game behind the Celtics in 5th place.
The Celtics won the series between these two teams last season 4-0 and have won their last 8 meetings. The Celtics have a brief stop at home before playing 7 of their next 8 games on the road beginning with a back to back game in Chicago on Monday. This includes a 5 game West coast trip. Cleveland has six of their next eight games at home.
The Celtics were hoping to get Jayson Tatum back for this game but he has been ruled out as he works on his conditioning after a bout with covid. Payton Pritchard left Friday’s game with a knee sprain and will be out at least 2 weeks. Romeo Langford is getting closer to a return but is still out as he rehabs his wrist.
Carsen Edwards is not on the injury list but has been out since January 6 and will likely need time to regain his conditioning. Aaron Nesmith is doubtful with a back injury. For the Cavaliers, Matthew Dellavedova is out with a concussion and Kevin Love is out with a calf injury.
The starting lineup that I’ve included for both teams is the lineup that started the last game for each team. Brad Stevens has admitted that the double big lineup wasn’t great but Grant Williams and Tristan Thompson doesn’t seem to be the answer either. I imagine though, that Brad will keep this lineup for one more game until Jayson Tatum can return.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Grant Williams
C: Tristan Thompson
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Jayson Tatum (conditioning) out
Payton Pritchard (knee) out
Carsen Edwards (covid) game time decision
Aaron Nesmith (back) doubtful
Probable Cavaliers Starters
PG: Collin Sexton
SG: Isaac Okoro
SF: Cedi Osman
PF: Larry Nance, Jr
C: Andre Drummond
Matthew Dellavedova (concussion) out
Kevin Love (calf) out
Kemba Walker vs Collin Sexton
Sexton is one of the reasons that the Cavaliers are playing so well. He is averaging 26.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.3 steals. He is the only player in Cavs history to score 20+ points in each of his first 10 games in a season and that is saying something for a team that had both LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Hopefully Kemba will continue to get back to form as his minutes are increased bit by bit.
Tristan Thompson vs Andre Drummond
Tristan Thompson faces the team that drafted him and that he played for over the past 9 seasons for the first time. Andre Drummond has been playing very well for the Cavs with 18.8 points, 15.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. In the meantime, Tristan Thompson has been somewhat disappointing in his play for the Celtics. Hopefully a game vs his former team will light a fire under him.
Grant Williams vs Larry Nance, Jr
Larry Nance, Jr is averaging 11.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.4 steals per game this season. Grant Williams has struggled somewhat in his starting role. Nance has had big games in the past against the Celtics and so they need to stay with him to try to limit his scoring opportunities. He has been a very good defender this season and so he won’t make it any easier on Grant.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the key to winning every game. Unfortunately, the Celtics have not been playing good defense consistently this season. We have seen flashes of the top 5 defense they had last season, but so far this season they are 20th with a defensive rating of 110.9. That is the bad news. The worse news is that Cleveland has the 2nd best defense in the league with a rating of 106.6. Until the Celtics commit to playing consistent, tough team defense, they are going to continue to struggle.
Rebound - Rebounding is a big key to winning. The Celtics have not been boxing out and rebounding as well as they should. They are allowing way too many easy baskets off of offensive rebounds and tip ins. Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics simply aren’t putting out that extra effort to win the battle of the boards.
Supporting Cast - Jaylen Brown has been playing very well but he has gotten little help from his supporting cast. In their last game, Brown scored 42 points while the rest of the starters scored just 46 points and the bench scored just 22 points. They need to play as a team and spread the scoring out and even more so play team defense. The chemistry needed to be a great team seems to be lacking.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must get back to playing with a chip on their shoulders. They have to get back to having a swagger on the court. They have been outplayed by the 76ers and the Knicks and the Pistons and the Pacers, with all of those teams playing harder than the Celtics. They have to come out strong and they have to play hard and aggressively for 48 minutes. Even teams with less talent can beat them on any given night if they play allow those teams to play harder than them.
Don’t Underestimate - The Celtics have won the last 8 games against the Cavs and since LeBron left there, they have been a lottery team. However, this season they aren’t playing like a lottery team and have beaten the Nets twice, 76ers, and Knicks. The Celtics have lost to all of those teams. The Cavs are just half a game behind the Celtics and if the Celtics give anything less than max effort, they will find themselves on the losing end once again.
Home Game - The home court advantage isn’t near as big without crowds but there is still the advantage of being in your own arena and having your family near and not having to travel to get to the arena and not having to stay in a hotel. All those things should give a slight advantage to the home team.
Focus - The Celtics have seemed to lack focus in recent games. They are turning the ball over more, they are missing defensive assignments, and they are shooting poorly at the line. They must work at being more focused on playing the right way.
Officiating - The officiating can definitely be an x-factor in any game. Sometimes the officials call a game tight and sometimes they let them play. Sometimes they favor one team or one player and other times they call it fair. However the refs call the game, the Celtics have to adjust and not allow it to affect their focus on the game.