After a long break to collect themselves, the Boston Celtics have their opportunity to correct the record, returning to play after three days’ rest to avenge their blowout loss to the Chicago Bulls this past Monday. Tonight’s foe: the Cleveland Cavaliers, one of the youngest and most intriguing teams that seems likely to factor heavily into the Eastern Conference Playoff picture. It’s the latest installment of a Celtics early season slate that has heavily featured teams they could very likely face in a potential playoff series.
It’s no secret that rebounding has been one of the Celtics’ weakest aspects since play began this season. Well, on a related note: the Cavs are one of the biggest teams in the league. Their duo of star centers, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, combined with former All-Star Kevin Love, form one of the NBA’s largest and most talented frontcourt rotations. The three are all remarkably skilled in complementary ways — Allen is the brick wall rim protector, Mobley the hyper-versatile Swiss Army Knife defender, and Love the experienced sharpshooter. It’s a group the Celtics would be hard-tasked to check, even without factoring in the Robert Williams III injury and the Grant Williams suspension.
What’s more: while the Celtics are deep at the guard position on their own, the Cavaliers are one of the few teams with the talent to really pressure that depth. Donovan Mitchell was one of the signature acquisitions of the NBA offseason (alongside former Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert, now in Minnesota), and he joins a Cleveland guard rotation that already features a 2021 All-Star selection in 23-year-old Darius Garland (inactive tonight) and a talented scoring guard/wing in Caris LeVert. That’s a group that can put a lot of points on the table in a hurry, and they’re going to put the Celtics’ perimeter defensive talent to the test.
The counterpoint is obvious. The Cavaliers might be stacked at guard and in the frontcourt, but they’re perilously thin on the wings — and that’s a lethal disadvantage against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The wing platoon of LeVert, Dean Wade, Isaac Okoro and Cedi Osman isn’t exactly inspiring, and the Jays are a star duo with more seasoning and experience than anyone in Cleveland’s lineup besides Mitchell. Unless the Cavaliers are buyers at the trade deadline — they very well might be! — it’s hard to imagine how they can really slow Boston’s star wings down for a substantial length of time.
With the game at its halfway point, the Celtics have passed this test. After reeling a bit early and falling behind by as many as 11, they stole the lead on a buzzer-beating three from Sam Hauser, and proceeded to step on the gas in the second quarter, outscoring the Cavs 41-29 en route to a 13-point halftime lead. Rebounding wasn’t quite as bad an issue as you might expect — the Cavs grabbed 5 offensive boards to Boston’s 3, but tied the overall rebounding battle 16-16 — while Tatum and Brown combined for 38 points to put the Celtics in the driver’s seat.
In all, it’s going to be a fascinating season series between these two teams. With the first two quarters of that series in the books, what has stood out to you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.