The Celtics will bring a confident squad onto the Garden hardwood for Tuesday night’s matchup with the Eastern Conference first place Cleveland Cavaliers. Boston is 3-2 in their last five games with wins over Charlotte, Chicago and New Orleans, however, it may be their recent losses that are the most telling. Boston has played the two best teams in the NBA, San Antonio last week and Golden State on Friday night. Both games ended with one more in the loss column but the young Celtics team showed a lot of character and poise despite defeat. In San Antonio the Celtics looked to be out of it in the fourth quarter before a late rally to close the gap that came up short and had them lose by three as the Spurs remained undefeated at home. The Celtics bounced back to beat the Pelicans on the road and then the Bulls at home before facing the Warriors at the Garden. As expected Boston played Golden State tough, fighting them tooth and nail to force not one but two overtimes.
One thing that can be said about the Celtics Friday night is they took every punch from the Warriors and kept on coming. Every time they got knocked to the mat by a great play or a Steph Curry three, of which he made six, they got back up, tried to have a good possession and continued to fight. It seemed as though they truly believed they were supposed to be playing with the Warriors, it didn’t matter if no one else had beat them, they had come to Boston to lose. Ultimately Golden State did what they had done to everyone else, maintained perfection and ripped the heart out of Celtics fans with a double overtime win that felt more like a steal after all that had happened between the fourth quarter and overtime. There is, however, no doubt that the C’s had chances to win the game in regulation and OT but were just unable to capitalize.
In the end of regulation Isaiah Thomas had a chance to win it with a couple tics on the clock but couldn’t connect as he was well defended by the long Shaun Livingston. Brad Stevens then drew up a great inbound play for the hot-handed Kelly Olynyk to screen then pop for the potential game winning jumper, unfortunately it was a bit rushed with 0.7 seconds on the clock and with that miss on to overtime they went. In the first overtime Thomas had a better look with a floater to win it that didn’t fall and in the second OT with the Celtics down by three Jae Crowder had a chance to tie it up but was also unable to hit the shot. Ultimately the looks were there, the Celtics were just unable to knock them down.
Although Boston did not pull out the victory they do know they can hang with the best two teams in the NBA and give them all they want. The next step for Brad Stevens’ team is to figure out how to finish those games and get the big victories. Lets face facts that a loss is never a good thing but with a team that appears to be gelling they have the opportunity to build from these losses. If anything, Boston can be confident now that they can play with anybody in the NBA, the key is the finish.
It appears the balanced attack is a solid approach but one does have to wonder without a go-to player is the pressure now going to be on Isaiah Thomas to take and make these shots? Is it his job to put the harpoon in and finish opponents? For better or worse the days of Paul Pierce are over, but when he was in Boston you could almost guarantee it was going to be The Captain and The Truth putting it up from the elbow or going to the rack to try and draw a foul during the final seconds of any close game.
Either way Boston is playing solid team basketball and should enter the matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night with a great deal of confidence. The matchup will be a home game for the Celtics who currently sit at 14-10 in seventh place in a tight early race in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs enter the game at 15-7, good enough for first place in the east, (they would be fourth in the Western Conference behind Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City). The Cavs have stumbled a bit of late going 2-3 in their last five games with wins over Orlando and Portland but loses to Washington, Miami and New Orleans. Cleveland recently got shooting guard/wing Iman Shumpert back from an sprained wrist however still do not have All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in the line up who is expected to potentially make his season debut next week.
Another great feature to this game is that there is no love loss between these two teams. Boston is a young team gunning, albeit from a distance for now, for the Cleveland crown. The C’s have played them tough despite getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round last year on Cleveland’s way to the NBA Finals. The Cavs left the City of Boston bruised, battered and down one star player after Kelly Olynyk dislocated Kevin Love’s shoulder and ended his season as well as diminished their chances for an NBA title. Jae Crowder suffered an injury of his own at the (back)hand of J.R. Smith in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference playoff series last year. Crowder suffered a vicious blow that landed him on the ground with a sprained ACL requiring rehab as the league slapped Smith with a suspension. Both teams play physical and both teams play defense, there is a good chance bodies will hit the deck tomorrow night in Boston as these teams are hungry for a win. The Cavs will be trying to maintain first place and the Celtics trying to prove they are a legitimate contender in east.
LeBron James, who might be one of the most physical players, and is likely one of the most physically impressive specimens the league has ever seen, is entering the game scoring 26.4 points per contest to go along with 7.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists. The superstar floor general is also getting All-Star production out of Kevin Love who is scoring a shade under 18 points per game and ripping down 11.0 rebounds a night. The supporting cast of Mo Williams filling in for the injured Kyrie Irving as well as J.R. Smith are both averaging in double figures.
The Celtics will need to match the Cavs physicality, trying to keep the LeBron James locomotive out of the lane and off the fast break to avoid easy buckets at the rim, free throws and foul trouble. Another apparent force is the big Russian, no not Ivan Drago, the center Timofey Mozgov. Despite his limited action he is able to score at the rim, rebound and block shots and may see a lot of time if the Celtics try to play a smaller line up with more skilled big men. Boston will need to look for Jared Sullinger to be a beast on the boards and the rest of the rotation of bigs to do their part in the trenches boxing out to avoid easy second chance points. The Celtics don’t have to be perfect to beat the Cavs but they need to play smart, grind it out on defense and get good looks on offense as points may be at a premium in this one. Boston is led in scoring by Isaiah Thomas averaging 20.8 points per game and Avery Bradley pouring in 16.3 a night and continue with a deep and balanced team having seven players averaging 9.0 or greater points per game.
Celtics fans have a lot to be excited about as a confident C’s team welcomes the Eastern Conference establishment, Cleveland Cavaliers, to what will be a jam-packed Garden heavily supporting this never-say-die Celtics team. Although early in the season this one will have the feel of a potential future playoff series.
Tags: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Iman Shumpert, Isaiah Thomas, J.R. Smith, Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Kevin Love, kyrie irving, LeBron James, Shaun Livingston, Steph Curry, Timofey Mozgov