The Celtics travel to Cleveland for the first of two consecutive games against the Cavaliers. This is the first of three games between these two teams this season. They will meet again in 2 days on November 15, once again in Cleveland. Their final meeting will be on December 22 in Boston. The Celtics were 1-2 against the Cavaliers last season, winning at home and losing both games in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers aren’t the push over that they have been in the past. They are playing very well and are currently 4th in the east. They are 3-2 at home and 8-5 overall. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and are coming off a win over the Pistons on Friday. The Celtics have won 2 straight and are 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 4-3 on the road. The Celtics can’t take this team for granted because of past performance.
Both teams are playing on the second night of back to back games. The Cavs are 1-1 on the second night of back to back games this season and the Celtics are 2-0 in the second game. The Celtics played at home vs Milwaukee on Friday and had to travel to Cleveland afterwards. The Cavs were at home vs the Pistons on Friday and are playing at home once again.
This is the first of 3 straight road games for the Celtics. They face Cleveland again on Monday and then travel to Atlanta to face the Hawks on Wednesday. They will then have a four game home stand. Cleveland is playing in the third of a four game home stand and will close their home stand out on Monday, once again against the Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is expected to travel with the team on the three game road trip but as of now, he is expected to miss this game with the hamstring injury that has kept him out of the last 3 games. Dennis Schroder should once again start in his place. Romeo Langford tweaked his ankle on Friday against the Bucks and is probable.
Al Horford is questionable with a sore back. If Al is out, I’m not sure if Grant Williams would fill in at power forward or if Langford or Nesmith would start and Tatum move up to power forward. Or, maybe even something else. Josh Richardson is questionable with right knee tendinopathy. Horford, Langford, and Richardson are all listed as game time decisions. Bruno Fernando and Sam Hauser will not be traveling with the team as they have been assigned to the Maine Celtics.
For the Cavaliers, Collin Sexton was diagnosed on Monday with a torn meniscus and will be out. Kevin Love has been in protocol since Nov 1 and has been cleared to return to the team, however, he’s not ready to return to the court and is out for this one. Lauri Markkanen is out due to covid health and safety protocols. Lamar Stevens sprained his ankle Friday vs Detroit and is out for this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jaylen Brown (hamstring) out
Romeo Langford (ankle) probable
Josh Richardson (knee) questionable
Al Horford (back) questionable
Bruno Fernando (G-League) out
Probable Cavaliers Starters
Collin Sexton (knee) out
Kevin Love (covid) questionable
Lauri Markkanen (covid) questionable
Two Way Players
Marcus Smart vs Darius Garland
Garland is averaging 15.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.2 steals. He is shooting 47.9% from the field and 41.7% from beyond the arc. He put up 21 points, 2 rebounds and 7 assists on Friday vs the Pistons. With Sexton out, they will be looking for more from Garland and keeping him in check will be important.
Robert Williams III vs Jarrett Allen
Allen is averaging 14.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks. He is shooting 67.9% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc. Robert Williams has become a key player for the Celtics on both ends of the court. Hopefully he continues his strong play. He especially will need to keep Allen out of the paint and off the boards.
Al Horford vs Evan Mobley
Mobley is averaging 15.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. He is shooting 51.4% from the field but just 25% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to keep Mobley out of the paint and also off the boards. Al struggled somewhat against the Bucks and played just 29 minutes in that game. Hopefully he will get back to his strong play in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning games. The top teams in the league are there because they have a top defense. The Celtics need to play tough team defense if they want to win. After starting out near the bottom of the league in defense, they have found their defensive identity in the last 4 games. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 104.8 (10th) while the Cavaliers have a defensive rating of 106.2 (12th). The Cavs offensive rating is 3 points higher than the Celtics offensive rating and so the Celtics have to make defense a priority in this game.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is a key to winning. Much of rebounding is effort and desire and when the Celtics put out the extra effort on the boards, it usually carries through to the rest of their game. The Cavs are averaging 44.5 rebounds per game while the Celtics are averaging 45.4 rebounds per game. The Cavaliers are 6-1 when they pull down 10+ offensive rebounds. The Celtics must crash the glass as a team and give extra effort on the boards to win this game.
Play as a Team - The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man. When they do that, they play very well. When they play hero ball and over dribble and look for their own shot first, it usually ends in a loss. They must trust each other and move the ball and play as a team. They also must play team defense and have each others backs on that end as well.
Play Hard from Start to Finish - The Celtics have had both ends of the spectrum so far this season. They have started off slow and had to expend a lot of energy to catch up. They have started off strong and built a lead and then stopped playing hard to give up that lead. They have also hung with teams throughout the game only to self destruct at the end. The Celtics have to start strong and play hard and be aggressive throughout the game with no let up.
Take Care of the Ball - The Cavaliers average 16.9 points off turnovers per game. The Celtics need to move the ball, but they have to stay focused and not turn it over also. The Celtics had 16 turnovers against the Bucks and they need to tighten that up in this game. If they get careless, the Cavaliers will make them pay.
On the Road - The Celtics are back on the road and need to focus on playing their game and not allow the distractions of playing on the road take away from that focus. The Cavs are 3-2 at home so they are beatable on their home floor. The Celtics are 4-3 on the road and have played well on the road so far. The need to make the hostile crowd motivation for them to quiet them with good play.
Back to Back - Both teams are playing in their 3rd back to back set this season. The Celtics are 2-0 in the second game of back to back games while the Cavaliers are 1-1 in the second game. The Celtics had to travel after Friday’s game while the Cavaliers are playing both games at home. Fatigue could come into play for both teams. The Celtics game went into overtime with 4 of the 5 starters playing over 40 minutes. On the other hand, the Cavs had an easy 20 point win. Depth will be a factor.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game a little differently with some calling it tighter than others. Also, they are calling offensive fouls more than ever and not awarding free throws as they used to. Teams should already be getting used to that. The Celtics have to adjust to how the game is being called and focus on the game and not on the bad calls.