Game Preview: Celtics at Cavaliers
BOSTON – Tuesday is revenge day for the Boston Celtics (9-10). They will meet the Cavaliers (8-11) again at 7 p.m. tonight in Cleveland, less than 48 hours after fumbling away an easy victory over the Cavs Sunday evening in TD Garden.
Sunday’s entertaining finish gave Cleveland a huge win and left the Celtics at a loss for words. Boston led for nearly the entire game and owned an 11-point advantage in the fourth quarter. In the end, though, rookie point guard Kyrie Irving was too much for the C’s and he put home the game-winning shot with 2.6 seconds left on the clock.
Irving, the first overall selection of the 2011 NBA Draft, was the best player on the floor Sunday night despite the fact that Boston’s three future Hall of Famers were all active. He led the game in both scoring (23 points) and assists (six) while shooting 10-of-14 from the floor, including that clutch bucket at the end of the game.
The rookie’s performance was impressive enough to draw praise from Doc Rivers during his postgame press conference.
“I thought he dominated the fourth quarter,” Rivers said of Irving. “He single-handedly, in my opinion, willed that win for them.”
He was able to do that thanks to the fact that Boston’s All-Star point guard, Rajon Rondo, was not active for the contest. Rondo missed his sixth straight game on Sunday as he continues to fight his way back from a sprained right wrist.
Prior to tipoff on Sunday, Rivers’ timetable for Rondo’s return was “maybe by next game,” which would be tonight. However, that has essentially been the message from Rivers for more than a week now, so it’s impossible to predict when Rondo will actually make his return. The word from this morning’s shootaround is that Rivers made it be known that Rondo will not be playing tonight.
If Rondo is unavailable, that means that Avery Bradley and E’Twaun Moore will again be faced with the task of slowing down Irving. They have both played well during Rondo’s absence but were drastically outplayed on Sunday. Bradley will need to bring a great defensive effort tonight and Moore will be asked to contribute with his offense.
While the Celtics will likely be without Rondo, they will have Ray Allen, who returned to the lineup on Sunday. Allen had missed the prior three games with a jammed left ankle but showed no rust during his first game back. He led the Celtics in scoring with 22 points and made four of his six attempts from 3-point range.
Allen wasn’t the only member of the Celtics who had it going offensively. The team shot 52.2 percent from the floor, which is one of its best performances of the season, and had four players score at least 13 points. That wasn’t enough to knock off Irving and the Cavs, though, as the C’s went cold down the stretch. They missed their final five shot attempts and did not score a point over the final 4:24 of the game.
There’s no doubt that Boston should have won Sunday’s game and that the loss must have been eating away at them for the past two days. Tonight is the Celtics’ opportunity to avenge that defeat and show the Cavs that the conclusion of Sunday’s game was merely a fluke.
Paul Pierce has been the Celtics’ best player during the team’s recent surge, but he has also been a turnover machine. Pierce has been forced to play a point-forward role while Rondo has been out and that has resulted in an average of 5.2 turnovers per game over his last five contests.
The turnovers are obviously going to be higher for Pierce while he’s handling the ball more, but they shouldn’t be this high. He acknowledged his sloppiness with the ball after Sunday’s loss.
“I turned the ball over too much today,” said Pierce. “Turnovers really came back to bite us today. I mean, we shot 50 percent, they shoot 43 (percent), but that’s the difference in the game. We turned the ball over too many times.”
Hopefully that’s an issue Pierce can clean up tonight.
Points off the Bench
Boston’s bench scored just 14 total points on Sunday and not a single reserve contributed more than four points. Alonzo Gee, who comes off the bench for the Cavaliers, scored 14 points on his own.
The Celtics will need a spike in their bench production tonight in order to snag this road win. Mickael Pietrus likely won’t shoot 1-for-5 again, and the team should get a scoring boost off of the bench from Brandon Bass if Jermaine O’Neal returns to start at center. Those two players’ ability to put the ball through the basket will be very important to the team tonight.
Protect the Paint
The most disturbing number to come out of Sunday’s box score is the 54 points that Cleveland scored in the paint against Boston. That is a very, very high number. The league’s top scoring team in the paint is Denver, and they score 52.9 per game in the paint.
One of the main reasons Cleveland was so successful around the basket was Anderson Varejao. He scored 18 points in the game on 8-of-12 shooting, and most of those points came in the paint. Irving also had a great day getting to the basket, including the final score of the game.
Boston should have its starting center back in the lineup tonight and that should pay big dividends in this department. O’Neal has been great defensively this season, from blocking and affecting shots to taking charges.
He can’t do it on his own, though. The rest of the Celtics’ defense must also step up and limit penetration into the paint.