The Celtics head to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers for the 4th and final game between them this season. The Celtics are 1-2 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 finally beat the Cavs 117-113 in Boston on March 1.
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 playing in the second of back to back games and in the 3rd game in 4 nights. The Celtics are 8-1 in the second of back to back games and are 6-1 when the second game is played on the road.
The Celtics are coming off a 3 game home stand and after this game in Cleveland, they will play Portland at home and then head out on the road for a 6 game Western road trip that will begin in Atlanta on March 11. The Cavs are playing in their second straight home game. After this, they will head out for a 4 game road trip where they will play in Miami twice and then in Charlotte twice.
The Celtics remain in 2nd place, 1.5 game behind first place Milwaukee, who won on Sunday. They are 3.5 games ahead of 3rd place and 6 games ahead of 4th place Cleveland. They are 20-11 on the road and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 28-15 against Eastern Conference opponents. The Celtics have lost their last 2 games.
The Cavaliers are 4th in the East. They are 6 games behind 2nd place Boston and 2.3 games behind 3rd place Philadelphia. They are 5.5 games ahead of 7th place Miami and a spot in the play-in tournament. They are 27-7 at home and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 24-13 against Eastern Conference teams. They had won 7 straight before losing 4 of their last 5 and are looking for their second straight win.
Al Horford is listed as out with back soreness. Robert Williams is expected to miss 7-10 days with a hamstring injury. Jayson Tatum has been added to the injury list with a knee contusion. Malcolm Brogdon, who has missed the last 2 games with ankle soreness was not on today’s injury list so I expect him to play. Danilo Gallinari remains out with the ACL injury.
So I’m going to make an absolutely wild guess that Mike Muscala starts at center although it may be Luke Kornet or Blake Griffin. I’m also guessing that the Celtics will go smaller with Derrick White in the lineup to replace Horford and Grant Williams to replace Tatum. These are all total guesses on my part. Joe Mazzulla has been a bit unpredictable with his substitutions. Donovan Mitchell is questionable with a sprained finger and will be a game time decision.
Probable Celtics Starters
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Robert Williams III (hamstring) out
Al Horford (back) out
Jayson Tatum (knee) out
Probable Cavaliers Starters
2 Way Players
Donovan Mitchell (finger) questionable
Derrick White vs Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell is averaging 27.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He is shooting 48% from the field and 38.7% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season, he averaged 36.7 points, 4 rebounds, 4.7 assists per game. He shot 51.2% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc in the first 3 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 22 points, 2.7 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He missed the first game against the Celtics but in the second and third games, he averaged 29 points, 4 rebounds, 10.5 assists and 3.5 steals. He shot 51.2% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. As with Mitchell, slowing him down will be key to winning this game.
Jayson Tatum vs Evan Mobley
Mobley is averaging 15.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game. He is shooting 54.8% from the field and 21.2% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season he averaged 15.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 assists. He shot 57.1% from the field and 16.7% 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 109.5 defensive rating, which is 2nd in the league. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 111.2, 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 41.7 rebounds per game (23rd) while the Celtics are averaging 45.0 rebounds per game (7th). 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 13.7 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 18.5 points off turnovers per game. 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 because of sloppy play.
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 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 Friday where they lost a 28 point lead and a game they should have won.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - At times the Celtics have come out slowly and allowed their opponent to build a big first quarter lead. At other times, like on Friday against the Nets, the Celtics have built a lead and then stopped playing hard and allowed their opponent to come back and surge ahead. Other times, they play their opponent even up until the final minutes and then can’t seem to close out. They have to start strong and play hard throughout the game right up until the final buzzer with no let up. They have to find a way to play hard for an entire game.
Back to Back on the Road - The Celtics are playing on the road and will need to stay focused in spite of the distractions of travel and playing in front of a hostile crowd. Cavs fans really do not like the Celtics. The Celtics are also playing on the second night of back to back games and in the 3rd game in 4 nights and so fatigue may become a factor, especially after a double overtime game on Sunday. Hopefully the Celtics’ depth will come through for them.
Revenge - Just 5 days ago, the Celtics outplayed the Cavaliers and beat them 117-113 behind 41 points from Jayson Tatum. The Celtics led by 18 points going into the 4th quarter but once again allowed the Cavs to make a run to close the lead. They were able to hold on and get the win. With that fresh in the Cavs’ minds, they are sure to come out fired up and look to outplay the Celtics in this one.
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 recent 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.