Game Preview: Celtics at Cavaliers

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BOSTON – Tuesday is a turn-the-page day for the Boston Celtics (20-20). Their 103-88 loss at the hands of the Pistons Sunday night was forgettable. They’re fortunate that you always live to see another day during the regular season.

The C’s will have an opportunity to return to the win column at 7 p.m. tonight when they take on the Cavaliers (10-32) in Cleveland. Boston is 1-0 against the Cavs this season after logging a 103-91 victory back on December 19.

Duplicating that performance tonight would be a blessing for the Celtics. They shot nearly 60 percent from the floor on December 19 and limited Cleveland to just 40.9 percent shooting. The Cavaliers had no answer for Boston’s offense, particularly Paul Pierce, who scored 40 points on 13-of-16 shooting.

Pierce and the Celtics have been on the opposite end of the spectrum over their last three games. Boston’s captain has shot 34.9 percent from the floor during the Celtics’ three-game losing streak. The C’s, meanwhile, have made just 42.3 percent of their shots overall.

The recent stretch of poor play, which has plagued the team at both ends of the court, spurred Doc Rivers to say some critical comments following Sunday’s loss. He described Boston’s performance as “awful” before calling out his players for not being on the same wavelength.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce was unstoppable against the Cavaliers on December 19, making 13 of his 16 shots en route to a season-high 40 points.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

“I do not think the guys are honest with each other,” he said. “I just do not think we are committed to being a good basketball team.”

Rivers’ critical comments have typically led to positive results for the Celtics over the past few seasons. He may have timed these comments perfectly, as the C’s head into a game against the struggling Cavs tonight.

Cleveland is coming off of a lopsided loss as well. It fell 109-98 to the Jazz Saturday night in Utah. The Jazz shot 50 percent from the floor during that game and used a balanced rebounding effort to pound the Cavs on the glass.

Saturday’s loss to Utah was Cleveland’s seventh defeat in its last 10 games. Thee of those seven losses were against sub-.500 teams.

The combined struggles of the Celtics and Cavs have been well documented. No one will mistake tonight’s game as one that features two hot basketball teams colliding. One win, however, can spark a streak of many victories. That’s what Boston will look for as it turns the page from Sunday night.

Super-Sub Mismatch

Cleveland head coach Byron Scott has returned Dion Waiters to the super-sub role he handled so well during his final season at Syracuse University. Waiters is having the best month of his young career while coming off of the bench during nine of Cleveland’s 10 games in January.

The explosive guard is averaging 16.3 points per game in January while shooting 43.2 percent from the field. That shooting percentage isn’t great, but it’s a drastic spike from his combined percentage from November and December (36.0 percent).

Waiters is likely to have a mismatch when he comes off of the bench tonight. Jason Terry, who is Boston’s backup shooting guard, isn’t exactly known for his defense. Waiters is bigger, faster and stronger than Terry. That doesn’t bode well for Boston.

Play as a Team

You know that something is wrong when Rivers publicly calls out his players. His comments are wide-ranging, as they sound like they are criticizing players’ mental approach to each game as well as their execution during those games.

Rivers did, however, state that he has seen the Celtics play “tremendous” basketball this month. We know the C’s are capable, but they haven’t shown their abilities on a consistent basis. They need to do so soon because tonight marks the halfway point of their regular season schedule.

Get Off to a Great Start

Sometimes all a team needs to grab a victory is to start the game off well. We saw that Sunday night, when a struggling Pistons team outscored the C’s 27-18 in the first quarter and rode that momentum to a blowout victory.

Boston has been outscored in the first quarter of its last two games. In fact, it hasn’t scored more than 19 points in either of those opening quarters. They can turn that trend around with a strong effort at the defensive end. Stops lead to buckets, and that combination will build momentum.