The Cleveland Cavaliers are off to their best start since the 2000-2001 season. That’s right, the Andre Miller Cavs were the most recent version of the team to get out to a 4-0 start to a season. It’s a fairly impressive feat, when you consider the usual championship hangover that teams tend to face. The Cavs got a quality road win against their Eastern Conference Finals foe in the Toronto Raptors, despite beingin a shooting slump for most of the night. They even withstood a nearly perfect game from James Harden and a very good offense in the Houston Rockets. But another test is coming Thursday night in the form of the Boston Celtics, a team that some believe could dethrone the Cavs in the playoffs this season.
Who? Boston Celtics vs Cleveland Cavaliers
When? 8:00 PM ET
Where? Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland Ohio
Where on my eyeballs? TNT
The result of Thursday’s game won’t necessarily have much long-term meaning. As we’ve seen time and time again, some teams just have another gear when it comes to the playoffs. Plus when you have a single opponent that you are playing over the course of two weeks, you can game plan more aggressively and come up with adjustments that can determine the outcome. The Celtics and Cavaliers are two very well coached teams, and a potential playoff series between these two would likely result in a highly entertaining showdown.
The Celtics will be on the second night of a back to back and may possibly be without the services of Al Horford. Horford was placed into the league’s concussion protocol and will not play in Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Bulls. The Celtics obviously would be a far different team in the event that Horford does not play. He is an offensive hub for them and one of the more skilled centers in the league.
How Horford matches up against the Cavs with Boston will be interesting. The team has had success in the past putting Kevin Love on Horford, as Love can provide solid post defense and doesn’t have issues with the mobility of Horford. This has allowed Tristan Thompson to match-up against the more mobile Paul Millsap. I would expect the Cavs to deploy a similar strategy, allowing Thompson to try and neutralize the activity that Amir Johnson brings.
One of the more notable things to this point of the season has been the increase in ball movement for Cleveland. It’s clear that with more familiarity and chemistry, Tyronn Lue has been able to get the team to buy into a system and they have executed that game plan. Thursday will be the first time that game plan gets tested by a truly strong defensive team. Avery Bradley is an elite defender of guards and his matchup against Kyrie Irving will undoubtedly be one of the keys to the game.
One of the more important things to keep an eye on when these teams play is the battle on the boards. Boston was a poor rebounding team last season, and let their lone elite rebounder in Jared Sullinger walk in free agency. For all his strengths, Horford has been a poor rebounding big man. The Atlanta Hawks finished 28th last season in rebound rate, despite Millsap having a stronger rebound rate than any big on the Celtics current roster.
Historically the Cavs have been a very good rebounding team, but to this point in the season the Celtics and Cavs are 28th and 29th in defensive rebound rate respectively. The Celtics ability to keep great offensive rebounders such as Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and LeBron James off the glass will have a significant impact on the team’s ability to slow down a Cavs offense that is currently second in efficiency.
While Thursday’s game isn’t meaningful, looking at individual defensive matchups as well as the battle on the glass can give us some indications what future matchups may look like.
Fear the Sword’s Fearless Prediction:
With Boston coming in on the second night of a back to back it is far from an optimal situation for them. Even if Horford were to play, if he’s coming back from a concussion he’ll likely be far from his usual self (who has struggled against the Cavs). Cavs win 110-98.