The Cleveland Cavaliers travel to Boston to take on an aging Celtics team. After the first two weeks of the season, it appeared as if the Celtics were completely done and had nothing left. Recently, however, the old guys have gotten into shape and started competing again. Tonight's matchup features one of the oldest teams in the league and one of the youngest teams. This is the first time that I get to see the Cavs in person this year, so I'm obviously mildly excited. (If by some chance any of you are going to the game today, let me know and I'll meet up with you.)
Song Of The Day: Shipping Up To Boston - Dropkick Murphys
Cleveland Cavaliers (7-11) at Boston Celtics (9-9)
I've had a hard time figuring out the Celtics so far this year. They looked absolutely terrible for the first 12 games or so, but then once Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen were sidelined with injuries, they started winning. Earlier in the season, the Celtics were just hanging around by barely beating really bad teams (three of their wins were against the Wizards). But the Celtics are coming off of a week in which they had two really impressive wins against Orlando. One of the games was an utter beatdown where the Magic scored just 56 points. And the other win was one in which Boston overcame a 27-point deficit. All of this without Allen and Rondo. It looks like those two will be out once again, so I have no idea what to expect from Boston.
The main reason that the Celtics have been playing well lately is the Paul Pierce. The team's slow start prompted rumors of Danny Ainge wanting to blow up the team and trade Pierce somewhere else. Pierce responded and has averaged 26.3 points per game over the past week. He has stuffed the stat sheet with over 7 rebounds and nearly 9 assists per game as well. While the rest of the Celtics are struggling or injured, their captain has taken his game to another level and seems determined to carry his team through this rough patch. In my opinion, Pierce is a Celtic for life. The organization would be foolish to trade him; he deserves to retire and enter the hall of fame as a member of the Boston Celtics.
Hey Alonzo Gee, you know that guy I just described in the last paragraph? That's your man. Gee has emerged as the best perimeter defender on the roster and Byron Scott will once again rely on Gee to track the opponents best scoring threat. If Ray Allen does play, Scott will let Anthony Parker chase him around screens. The Celtics have been going with some lineups that use Kevin Garnett at the center position and Brandon Bass at power forward. That would presumably leave Anderson Varejao to guard Garnett and Jamison on Bass. Rondo will definitely not play tonight, setting up a matchup between Avery Bradley or E'Twuan Moore and Kyrie Irving.
Tristan Thompson will play in his second game after missing two games with an ankle injury. He couldn't really get going against the Nets, but should get a few more minutes tonight and have a chance to get comfortable on the floor again. In a season this short, with players so young, missing even two games can give you a lot to catch up on. The Cavs are learning on the fly and are still working hard to develop some much needed chemistry on the floor. When you take one of those guys off the court for a few nights, that sets him and the players around him back a little bit. Tristan's athleticism and energy will be a handful for the significantly slower and less athletic Celtics. This is the kind of team that I would like to see Tigger dominate with some big dunks and offensive rebounds.
Tonight will be a clash of two significantly different styles of play. The Cavaliers play at the 7th fastest pace in the league while the Celtics play at the 24th fastest. The Cavs don't have the weapons to grind out a win in the half court against such a good defensive team. Byron Scott will be wise to push the pace as much as possible and hope that his young guns can outlast and run them out of the building. In this same vein, I fully expect Irving to be more aggressive than he was in the first 45 minutes of the game against the Nets. In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Irving stepped on the gas pedal and didn't let up until the final buzzer. The result was 17 points in 3 minutes, as nobody in the league has a realistic chance of staying in front of him on a consistent basis. Kyrie needs to drive to the basket early and often. Doing so could result in another big game for the rookie.
Boston: Ray Allen - ankle (questionable), Keyon Dooling - hip (questionable), Jermaine O'Neal - knee (probable), Rajon Rondo - wrist (out)
Antawn Jamison vs. Brandon Bass
In a clash of two power forwards that are seemingly allergic to defense, expect to see lots of forced midrange jumpers. The Celtics acquired Bass in an offseason move that sent Glen Davis and Von Wafer to Orlando and have presumably been pleased with his production. Bass averages roughly 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. We all know that Jamison offers little to no resistance so don't be surprised if Bass proves to be a headache for the Cavs all night. The success of the Cavaliers is very closely linked to the success of Jamison. In wins, Jamison's shooting percentage is a healthy 50.4%. Compare that to his performances in losses (34%) and you'll see why it's important for the Cavs to get frequent AND efficient scoring out of Tawn.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction:
Kyrie and Tigger somehow get wind of the fact that I am in attendance and appropriately put on a show. Thompson scores 15 points and records his first double-double in the NBA. Irving continues scoring at a ridiculous pace, pours in 25 points in 28 minutes and leads the Cavs to a 99-92 victory.