It wasn't a fun weekend in #TheLand. Even after the Cleveland Cavaliers made a huge statement by knocking off the Golden State Warriors at home on Thursday, the Cavs suffered consecutive road losses to the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets. The Cavs were without LeBron James and Kyrie Irving against the Pacers, due to rest and a shoulder strain, respectively, and while LeBron returned and hulked out against Houston, Kyrie's status is still a question moving forward as he continues to receive treatment. We can't say the losses were unexpected; after all, not having Kyrie against two of the tougher defenses in the league is a near-guarantee for offensive struggles, which the Cavs had this weekend.
Tonight, the Cavs have a chance to rebound from those tough losses, as they welcome the Boston Celtics to Cleveland. While Kyrie playing is still a question (we will update after shootaround, when the decision is supposed to be made), the Cavs have a good chance to take down a bad, albeit quite grindy, team tonight.
Who: Cetltics at Cavs
When: 7:00 PM EST
Where: Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland, Ohio
Television: Fox Sports Ohio
Music: Dropkick Murphys (Ft. Mighty Mighty Bosstones) - Shipping Up to Boston
The Cavs miss Kyrie. BREAKING: Elite team desperately misses All-Star point guard who plays over 37 minutes per game! It's no secret the Cavs missed Kyrie Irving this weekend. Without Irving to create off the dribble and at times bail out the offense when LeBron can't get good looks, the Cavs' offense managed just 86 points against Indiana and 103 in overtime against the Rockets. Without Kyrie, the Cavs lack a conventional point guard, and it forces Matthew Dellavedova into big minutes, and shockingly, that doesn't go well. The Cavs' offense is a ridiculous 13.8 points/100 possessions worse with Irving off the floor this year, dropping from a 110.8 offensive efficiency to a Sixersian 97.5. Related: The Cavs are 1-4 in games Irving doesn't play this season. They need him back, soon.
Who guards LeBron? This is the question pretty much every team in the league has to ask when they play the Cavs, but it's a big question in particular for Boston, as the C's lack a true three that can really defend LeBron one-on-one. In the Cavs' first game against the Celtics, LeBron went for 41/4/7, and that was with Jeff Green available to check James. Now, who do they go to? Evan Turner is a bad ISO defender, ranking in the 33rd percentile of the NBA at 0.93 PPP allowed, per Synergy data. They probably can't rely on him to guard LeBron. Jae Crowder would be a better option defensively, but they probably can't afford to extend his minutes too far because he's a bit of an offensive minus (Even though his on/off numbers say he makes them better on that end). After that, it's either Jonas Jerebko, who isn't quick enough to defend James, or Gerald Wallace, which.......sure. Look for plenty of LeBron one-on-one action tonight, especially if Kyrie doesn't play, looking to exploit the big matchup advantage they have there.
The Celtics are almost a perfectly average opponent. I am a big fan of college football, and like with the NBA, college football comes with its own advanced stats. Many of those advanced stats look to gauge how well a team would have performed against a perfectly average opponent during a given game or over the course of a season.
In the NBA this year, the Celtics are as close to that perfectly average opponent as you can get. They rank 17th in the league in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency. Of the offensive and defensive four factors (eFG%, TO%, Rebounding Rate, Free Throw Rate), they rank between tenth and 20th in all but one (29th in team free throw rate). I mean, just look at the number of stats in the teens here:
Even though they're playing quite well since they traded for Isaiah Thomas (have won three of four), Boston's a good litmus test for the Cavs tonight, because they're very nearly your perfectly average NBA team.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: I think Cleveland wins tonight regardless of whether Irving plays tonight or not. They've got a big advantage with LeBron against any of the Celtics' wings, the Celtics' only big who can contend with Mozgov is Tyler Zeller, and even if Boston tries to push the pace, the Cavs are pretty comfortable getting out and running if they have to. I think we get something in the Cavs 105, Celtics 94 range.