Game Preview: Cavaliers at Celtics
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (39-36) can win their third game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers (22-52) at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden. The C's will host the Cavs in the teams' fourth and final meeting of the season, just nine days after Boston downed Cleveland on the road, 93-92.
That win nine days ago featured a Celtics starting lineup that will likely mirror tonight's. Doc Rivers has shifted Courtney Lee to the bench in favor of the emerging Jeff Green, and Chris Wilcox has been holding down the center position while Kevin Garnett rehabs his inflamed left ankle.
Cleveland might be the last team that wants to see Green remain in Boston’s starting lineup. Green lit the Cavs up for 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists on March 27. Two of those points arrived in dramatic fashion, as Green drove to the basket and scored a layup at the buzzer to give the C’s a one-point victory.
Doc Rivers explained on Thursday that Green has “earned” a starting spot for the foreseeable future. Rivers did, however, note that on some nights he would need to plug Lee back into the starting lineup against quicker opposing 2-guards.
Tonight is unlikely to be one of those nights. Wayne Ellington, who scored 16 points in these teams’ last meeting, is currently Cleveland’s starting shooting guard. He stands at 6-foot-4 and is known as more of a shooter than a player who uses elite quickness to succeed. As a result, Green or Paul Pierce – whichever player may handle the shooting guard duties tonight for Boston – should be able to deal with that defensive challenge.
While Boston’s starting lineup is unlikely to change tonight compared to these teams’ last meeting, Cleveland’s will. The Cavaliers will have All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed the last matchup with a bum shoulder, on the floor for the opening tip.
Irving’s presence will certainly change the tenor of this game. He is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league and heads into tonight’s contest with averages of 23.0 points per game and 5.7 assists per game. He scored 31 points in his return to the lineup on March 31.
That performance is similar to what Irving has done against the Celtics throughout his career. He owns career averages of 26.0 PPG and 58.8 percent shooting against Boston. Irving hasn’t scored less than 21 points against the C’s in any of the five games he has played against them.
Boston was only one point better than the Cavs when they played without Irving last week. There’s no doubt that the C’s will need to play much better tonight in order to end the season series with a 3-1 advantage.
Does Pierce Play?
Pierce missed Monday night’s game in Minnesota with a right ankle sprain. He returned to the lineup Wednesday night against the Pistons and scored 17 points, but he tweaked his left ankle in the process.
“We’ll see how it feels,” Pierce said before Thursday’s practice. “If we played today, I probably wouldn’t be able to go unless it was a playoff game.”
We all know that these final two weeks of the season are about getting the team healthy. That fact leaves the door open – though very slightly open – that Pierce could be sidelined for this game.
Boarding from the Bench
Boston’s entire bench totaled just seven rebounds the last time these teams met. That number must rise tonight.
Rivers went very small against Cleveland during that game but he could mix in more bigs during this contest. The one man he may turn to is Shavlik Randolph.
Randolph played less than nine minutes on March 27 and finished with two boards. He has played much better since that Cleveland game, including a 13-rebound performance against Atlanta. Those facts, combined with the size Cleveland has up front, may lead to more minutes for him tonight. If that happens, Randolph should help the rebounding effort from Boston’s bench.
Get in Speights’ Space
The Cavs have used Marreese Speights as a top scorer off of the bench ever since they acquired him from the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 23. Speights has averaged 11.4 PPG in 31 games with Cleveland.
Speights is able to score that many points off of the bench because the Cavs have given him the green light on offense. He is averaging 9.4 field goal attempts per game with Cleveland despite the fact that he’s playing less than 20 minutes a night. That is one trigger-happy player.
Speights dropped 13 points on the Celtics in just 17 minutes of action on March 27. Whoever is defending him tonight must get in his space and be sure that the big man doesn’t provide a large spark off of the bench.