The Celtics return home from a 3 game road trip to host the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics last played on Monday when they lost to the Knicks in New York. The Cavaliers last played on Sunday when they beat the Raptors at home. The Celtics won 3 straight before their loss on Monday. The Cavs lost 3 straight before their win on Sunday.
This is the third of 4 regular season games between these two teams this season. The Celtics are 0-2 so far this season against the Cavs. They lost 132-123 in OT at Boston on October 28 and they lost again 114-113 in Cleveland on November 2. They will meet one more time in Cleveland on March 6. The Celtics won the series 2-1 last season, winning once at home and once in Cleveland. The Cavs got their win at home.
The Celtics are coming off a 2-1 road trip and now have a 3 game home stand beginning with the Cavaliers and will also include games against the Nets and Knick before facing these same Cavaliers on Monday in Cleveland. The Cavs have been alternating home and away games for the last 6 games and will have 2 games at home after this game including hosting the Celtics on Monday.
The Celtics have led the East for most of the season so far but dropped into second place, half a game behind the Bucks, who have won 15 in a row. They are 4 ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia and 6 ahead of 4th place Cleveland. They remain half a game ahead of the west leading Denver Nuggets. The Celtics are 24-7 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 27-13 against Eastern Conference teams and are coming off a loss.
The Cavaliers are in 4th place. They are 6 games behind Boston and 2 games behind Philadelphia for 3rd place. They are 2.5 games ahead of the 5th place Knicks and 5 games ahead of 7th place Miami and the play-in. The Cavs are 13-18 on the road and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 23-12 against Eastern Conference opponents and they are looking for their 2nd straight win.
The Celtics expect Jaylen Brown to return from Monday’s absence for personal reasons. Mike Muscala is listed as questionable due to right knee tendinopathy. He will be a game time decision. Danilo Gallinari remains out as he rehabs his torn ACL. The Cavs have no players listed on their injury list at this time.
Probable Celtics Starters
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Mike Muscala (knee) questionable
Probable Cavaliers Starters
2 Way Players
Jaylen Brown vs Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell came over to the Cavaliers in a trade from the Jazz in the off season. He has fit in very well with the Cavs. He is averaging 27.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He is shooting 47.9% from the field and 38.9% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season, he averaged 33 points, 4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block per game. He shot 50% from the field and 44.4% from beyond the arc in the first two games against the Celtics. Slowing Mitchell down will be key to getting a win for the Celtics.
Marcus Smart vs Darius Garland
Garland and Donovan have formed a formidable backcourt for the Cavs. Garland is averaging 21.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He missed the first game against the Celtics but in the second game, he had 29 points, 5 rebounds, 12 assists and 3 steals. He shot 45% from the field and 45.5% from beyond the arc. As with Mitchell, slowing him down will be key to winning this game.
Al Horford vs Evan Mobley
Mobley is averaging 16.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 blocks per game. He is shooting 55.2% from the field and 22% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season he averaged 17 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1 block. He shot 70% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc. He is a good defender and could make things difficult for the Celtics on offense. He also is a good rebounder and the Celtics will need to box out to keep him off the boards.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning games. The Cavaliers are a good defensive team with a 109.6 defensive rating, which is third in the league. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 111.1, which is 4th. The Celtics must make defense a priority in this game and they have to play that tough defense for 48 minutes and not let up. The Cavs are going to play good defense and so the Celtics will need to match or exceed their defensive intensity.
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 41.8 rebounds per game (23rd) while the Celtics are averaging 45.0 rebounds per game (8th). The Celtics need to aggressively go after every rebound. The Cavs will have more size inside and so the Celtics will need to make up for it with extra effort in going after rebounds.
Take Care of the Ball - The Cavs average 13.8 turnovers per game while the Celtics average 13.5 turnovers per game. The Cavs have been successful in forcing turnovers and are 5th in the league with 18.4 points off turnovers. The Celtics need to make crisp and careful passes and watch for Cavs in the passing lanes. They also need to be careful dribbling and not get careless and dribble into a crowd or dribble off their feet or step out of bounds. Do not give the Cavs extra possessions.
Effort and Focus - The Celtics need to stay focused on playing the game the right way. They have to play with effort. The Cavs play hard and so the Celtics need to match that effort and play even harder. The team that plays harder and is more aggressive is usually the team that comes out on top. The Celtics also have to stay focused. They have to focus on taking good shots and making them. When they are focused, they make their shots. When they play with low effort and with a lack of focus, they have a game like they did on Monday where they shoot 44% from the field and 21% from beyond the arc.
Revenge - The Celtics were outplayed all the way around by the Cavaliers in the first game between them. In the second game, the Celtics were closer but still came up short. The Cavs are likely thinking that if they play hard, they can force the Celtics to wilt and fall apart on both ends of the court. The Celtics need to be thinking that if they let up, the Cavaliers will once again beat them. The Celtics need to use that loss as motivation to play hard and be aggressive and stay focused from start to finish.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game a little differently with some calling it tight and others letting them play. The refs have been calling games fairly tight and have been quick to call techs this season. The Celtics have been on the wrong end of big free throw differentials in the last two games. Complaining to the refs about bad calls just seems to make it worse. The Celtics have to adjust to how the game is being called and focus on the game and not on the officials.