The Celtics visit the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 3rd and final game between them this season. The Celtics won the first meeting in Boston 141-103 on January 24. They met a second time and the Cavaliers came out on top 117-110 in Cleveland on March 17. The Celtics are 134-81 all time vs the Cavs and 54-55 all time on the road.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games, having lost to the Heat at home on Tuesday night. The Celtics are 6-7 overall on the second night of back to back games. They are 1-3 when the games are home and then road. The Celtics have lost their last 3 games.
The Celtics are 7th in the East and look to stay in that spot, having pretty much blown the chance to move up by losing both games against Miami. They are 3 games behind Atlanta (4th), Miami (4th) and New York (6th), with those three teams in a 3 way tie at the moment. The Celtics are 2 games ahead of their likely play in opponent, Charlotte. The Celtics are 3-7 in their last 10 games and 14-19 on the road.
The Cavaliers are 14th in the East and are battling for their lottery spot. They are 1.5 games ahead of last place Detroit. They are tied with the 13th place Orlando Magic. They are 12-23 at home. They have lost their last 11 games.
The Celtics will be without Jaylen Brown, who is out for the rest of the season with a wrist injury. Robert Williams is once again out for this game. Kemba has been ruled out as well. A late scratch is Marcus Smart who is listed as out with a calf contusion. I’m guessing that Tremont Waters and Aaron Nesmith get the start but Brad could use any combination here so it’s just a guess.
The Cavaliers have 7 players out for this game. Cedi Osman is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. They were granted a hardship exception to sign Anderson Varejao to a 10 day contract. He has been out of the league since 2017 and played his first game on May 5 and recorded 1 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in 7 minutes of play.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams (toe) out
Jaylen Brown (wrist) out
Kemba Walker (knee) out
Marcus Smart (calf) out
Probable Cavaliers Starters
Matthew Dellaveova (neck) out
Darius Garland (ankle) out
Isaiah Hartenstein (concussion) out
Larry Nance, Jr (thumb) out
Taurean Prince (ankle) out
Lamar Stevens (concussion) out
Dylan Wyndler (knee) out
Cedi Osman (ankle) questionable
Tremont Waters vs Collin Sexton
Sexton is averaging 24.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He is shooting 47.5% from the field and 37.0% from beyond the arc. He is their top scorer and pretty much a bright spot in a down season for the Cavs. Slowing him down will go a long way toward getting a win. With Kemba and Smart both out, Tremont may or may not start at point, but I could see Nesmith or Fournier guarding him much of the time unless Payton Pritchard starts.
Tristan Thompson vs Jarrett Allen
Allen is averaging 12.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game. He is shooting 62.9% from the field and 35.3% from beyond the arc so he is a threat to score both inside and out. He is also a good rebounder and it would be good to keep him out of the paint. Thompson is back in Cleveland where he was drafted with the 4th pick in 2011 and where he spent his first 9 years in the league.
Evan Fournier vs Isaac Okoro
Okoro is averaging 9.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.0 steals per game. He is shooting 42.4% from the field and 29.9% from beyond the arc. Fournier has been playing very well and hopefully will continue that in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning games. For the Celtics, this is the biggest key. They went from having a top 4 defense last season to a mediocre one this season. The Celtics lost 2 games to Miami, not due to their offense, but because they allowed Miami to shoot 57.3% and 59.3% from the field. In their last game against Cleveland, the Celtics allowed the Cavs to shoot 54.1% from the field and 43.5% from beyond the arc, when they are 25th in the league in FG% and last with a 33.8% 3 point percentage. The Celtics have to address their lackadaisical defense if they hope to ever be a top team in the league.
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 Celtics must crash the glass as a team and give extra effort on the boards in this game.
Play 48 Minutes -The Celtics need to start out strong and play focused for 48 minutes. If they Celtics build a lead, they have to keep playing hard and not lose focus and allow the Cavs to gain confidence. And, they absolutely can’t start out slowly and allow the Cavs to build a big lead and have to try to claw back into the game. They need to play hard from start to finish.
Play Fast and Move the Ball - In the first half against Miami, the Celtics were playing fast and getting up the court quickly and moving the ball and they looked good. Then once again, down the stretch, they went away from that and stopped running and stopped moving the ball, settling for too many iso possessions. They have to play the right way for 48 minutes.
Don’t Underestimate - It would be easy to underestimate the Cavaliers with a 21-48 record and a 38 point win over them already this season. The Celtics could easily expect to come in and win without a lot of effort. But, that always backfires. It did the last time they played and the Cavs got the win. The Cavs will play hard and if the Celtics don’t match their effort, they could be surprised with another loss to a team they should beat.
Back to Back on the Road - The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. They had to travel to Cleveland for this game. And, they are on the road where opposing fans and other distractions could take away from their focus on the game.
Injuries - The Celtics are missing 4 key players in Smart, Kemba, Robert Williams and Jaylen Brown. However, the Cavaliers are missing 7 players and possibly 8 is Cedi Osman can’t play. Injuries will affect both teams but can’t be an excuse for the Celtics to lost this one.
Officiating - The style of officiating can affect the outcome of a game. They don’t even have to favor one team over the other. When officials call every little bit of contact, the Celtics seem to struggle. When the refs let them play, the Celtics play much better. Hopefully the refs call it fairly and let both teams play. However the game is called, less complaining to the refs would be a welcome change.