Winners of seven of their last eight and 10 of there last 13 the Celtics head to Cleveland for a Friday night match up with the beast of the east, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs stand alone atop the Eastern Conference at 35-13 while Boston has mustered a 29-22 record, good for a third place tie with Atlanta. The Celtics have been winning games by putting up points, scoring over 100 points in 13 of their last 14 games, that ties them for fifth best in the NBA with San Antonio. Defensive intensity has also been a mainstay with the C’s giving up 100.3 points per game, not too shabby, and good for ninth best in the NBA, just behind Indiana and ahead of the Clippers.
Led by All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas there is no doubt that the Celtics are on the rise and coming down the stretch run will hope to continue this push for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It should be noted however that the competition that Boston has recently played is not near what they will face Friday night. The Celtics have essentially taken care of business and won games they are supposed to win to be considered a contender in Eastern Conference. The most notable recent victories have come over the Pistons, Pacers and Bulls who, if the regular season ended today, would be in the playoffs.
Cleveland on the other hand is in a different class than recent Celtics competitors. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have had marquee wins over San Antonio and the Clippers. Changes for Cleveland since they beat the Celtics 89-77 in December include the presence of Kyrie Irving who did not play as he was still rehabilitating a fractured knee cap and Cavs new head coach, ex-Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue, after the surprise firing of David Blatt.
Its likely going to be a difficult environment for the Celtics playing in Cleveland in front of a Friday night packed house. Not to mention LeBron James and the Cavs will be looking to rebound from a loss to the Hornets in a game where they did not face their opponents leading scorer Kemba Walker. Instead they were torched by Jeremy Lin, that’s right Jeremy Lin who hung 24 points and eight dimes on Cleveland, sending them too defeat. Expect a fired up crowd and a Cavaliers team trying to fend off a second straight loss as the Celtics try to keep their string of winning ways alive at Quicken Loans Arena.
Key match ups to watch will be Isaiah Thomas, who is coming into the game scoring 21.4 points per game to go with 6.6 assists, and Kyrie Irving who is averaging 17.2 points per contest. However it is somewhat unlikely they will actually defend one another all the time as Brad Stevens will rotate Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley onto Irving to stifle his attack with their tenacious on ball defense. Another match up to watch will be Jae Crowder doing his best to slow down the LeBron James freight train and the carousel of Celtics bigs trying to rebound with Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson.
If the Celtics are able to score over 100 points, as they have been consistently doing, and are able to keep the Cavs off the offensive glass for easy put backs, they will have a shot of dethroning the King and his Cavs in their own castle. On the other hand, if the Celtics are forced to grind out a poor shooting performance like the game back in December they will surely struggle against the defending Eastern Conference Champs.
Its a potential playoff preview of two teams heading in the right direction, the Cavs under the new direction of Tyronn Lue, and the red hot C’s playing their best basketball under Brad Stevens. The Q Arena should be rocking on Friday night and Celtics fans will be able to see how this improved Boston team measures up against the likely number one seed in the east!