During the pandemic-impacted season of 2020-21, the NBA experimented with scheduling teams to play the same opponent in consecutive games. This is commonplace, but usually as a home-and-home where both teams travel. This new quirk was traveling to one city to play the same team in an MLB-like mini-series. Players and coaches liked the lessened travel and the simulated playoff environment. The NBA kept a limited amount of the mini-series on tap for the 2021-22 season.
The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves in this spot on Monday night. After the Cavs rallied from a 19-point second half deficit on Saturday, the Celtics get another chance at a road win in Cleveland. Here’s what we’re looking for in this rematch:
1. A bounce-back performance: Boston was cruising in the third quarter before everything fell apart. The all-bench group that played well in the first half wasn’t able to sustain that play in the second half. The late-game offense was a mess. And the inability to secure defensive rebounds led directly to some big Cavs buckets.
So far this season the Celtics have proven to be resilient. Can they do it again and get the team back to .500 on the season?
2. Can Dennis Schroder play well without dominating the ball? When Schroder has looked good, he’s been decisive and has quickly attacked mismatches. This creates scoring chances for himself, or sets up passes to his teammates. When Schroder hasn’t looked good, he pounds the ball for 15-20 seconds of the shot-clock and then takes a rushed, contested shot. Or he throws a no-chance pass to a teammate for a bailout shot.
Schroder has vacillated between looking like a star and looking like he’s out of control. This has often happened within the same game. With Jaylen Brown out, Boston needs the quick-attacking playmaker vs the ball-pounding isolation specialist.
3. Can Boston handle the Cleveland bigs? The Celtics did fine with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley for about 2.5 quarters on Saturday. They were able to switch, scramble out of mismatches, help and contest most everything the Cavaliers big men tried to do. For about 30 minutes, that is.
Midway through the third quarter, Mobley started to figure out Boston’s defense. By slowing down and being patient, he was able to play quicker and stronger when he attacked the paint. Later in the game, Allen showed up too. This time around, Robert Williams should have Al Horford to help him out inside. That should allow the Celtics to match up better, and to hopefully be stronger on the boards. That last part is really key to getting a win, especially if the game is close in the closing minutes.