The Cleveland Cavaliers thrashed the Orlando Magic on Friday, looking the best they've looked in weeks to begin their two-game road stand. They've had three days off since this big win, and now return to action tonight in Boston against the Celtics. If you'll remember, the Cavs played the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last year, and while it was a four-game sweep featuring the Cavs completely outclassing the Celtics, the series left plenty of animosity between the two fan bases. This is the first meeting of the season for the two teams, and surely the animosity will have simmered, right?
While the Cavs come off the blowout of Orlando, the Celtics' plucky band of overachievers led by the greatest NBA coach of all time needed crunch time heroics from Evan Turner to beat the Charlotte Hornets 98-93 on Saturday. I for one am terrified of this matchup.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics
When: 7:30PM ET
Where: TD Garden - Boston, Massachusetts
Enemy Blog: CelticsBlog
Music: Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Bronzing the Garbage
Things to Watch For:
- It's not really a question of whether this game gets chippy, but where it gets chippy. We've already had Jae Crowder call out J.R. Smith for last year's skirmish that resulted in a Crowder knee injury, and we know neither is above scrapping over dumb things like last year's backhand. There's also the potential that Kelly Olynyk could do something dumb to Kevin Love again, although I think it's far more likely that the two just play a fun, competitive game, because Love's been awesome offensively and Olynyk's somehow been a very good defender this year. Still, though, the potential is there. And then you can throw in Delly against Isaiah Thomas, a very volatile pair that will be guarding each other, and the potential someone gets a technical foul in this game is very high.
- I have no idea how to explain Boston this year. I didn't last year, either, but nothing about their roster explains a 14-10 record and top-five defensive efficiency. This is essentially the same team as last year plus David Lee and Amir Johnson instead of Brandon Bass, and yet somehow they've vastly improved despite a dearth of quality young players to explain that. One thing they are legimately great at is swarming on defense, asthey lead the league in turnovers forced per game and they make life very hard on opposing backcourts because Avery Bradley and Thomas have been playing very well overall defensively this year. Without Kyrie Irving, that's somewhat a cause for concern, because the Cavs haven't been the best at taking care of the ball this year.
- I legitimately look forward to seeing how the Celtics' frontcourt deals with Tristan Thompson. The C's don't rebound well, and while they have three or four serviceable bigs depending on your opinions of Lee, none of them has the combination of mobility and athleticism to keep Thompson corralled. Johnson is probably their best bet, but given that the Celtics start him regularly, TT's going to get significant time against Olynyk and Lee, who probably aren't well-suited to being stuck boxing out and contesting Thompson on drop-offs and putbacks consistently. And in the fourth quarter, you probably want Amir guarding Kevin Love, leaving Tristan to be paired off with Jared Sullinger, a matchup I like for many reasons. TT should have a big night for Cleveland, especially if Johnson gets in early foul trouble.
- The other interesting note to make matchup-wise is that Boston rarely goes small-ball, with their top seven most common lineups featuring two-big combinations. Their most common small-ball unit features Sullinger at the five with Turner and Crowder at the forwards, a group that I don't see having much success against the Cavs going LeBron/Love in the frontcourt due to Jared Sullinger not being able to guard anyone on the floor successfully in that scenario. Boston's going to have to get creative with their rotation if the Cavs go that route, and I think going small is definitely the way to go for the Cavs to have offensive success.
- Tyler Zeller has taken three consectutive DNP's and has fallen out of the Celtics' rotation. This is occurring while Jared Sullinger shoots 42 percent from the field and 29.8 pecent from three in starter's minutes. FREE TYLER ZELLER.
- I'll be interested to see how the Celtics fair from three-point range. Boston takes a ton of threes (28.1 per game), but only hits 33.2 percent from deep, while the Cavs force opponents into the second-least amount of threes per game at 21.5, but allows a more respectable 34 percent. Forcing Boston into a bunch of two-pointers is a reasonable proposition because they're good, but not great, at finishing, and they have the league's fourth-worst free throw rate. I don't know about you, but I think I'd be more willing to funnel Turner and Thomas into Thompson and Mozgov than risk a barrage outside from Bradley and Olynyk.