Game Preview: Cavaliers at Celtics

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BOSTON – Plane issues caused the Boston Celtics (12-12) to stay overnight Tuesday in Chicago after their loss to the Bulls. Those issues will also cause Boston to fly and play on the same day for the first time since Jan. 5, 2008, according to Celtics play-by-play man Sean Grande.

The Celtics will fly back to Boston today and then take on the Cleveland Cavaliers (5-21) at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden. These circumstances will be difficult to overcome but Doc Rivers was able to push his team through them back in 2008.

According to Grande, who travels with the team to every away game, the Celtics were forced to stay overnight in Memphis on Jan. 4, 2008 after a 100-96 victory. They then flew to Detroit on January 5 and beat the Detroit Pistons in one of the most intriguing regular season matchups the league has ever seen. That was the first time since 1981 that two teams entered a game having already accumulated 54 victories by January 5.

Tonight’s contest is missing that type of flare, but you get the point. Rivers and Boston’s top three players have all been through this situation before and have succeeded in overcoming it. They’ll have a very good opportunity to duplicate that success tonight against an underwhelming Cleveland team.

The Cavaliers enter tonight’s game having lost nine of their last 10 games and were defeated by another bottom-dweller, the Toronto Raptors, last night at home. Toronto dominated the second half of that game and wound up blowing Cleveland out by 14 points.

The loss was particularly disappointing for the Cavs because their two top players, Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao, played fantastic. Irving tied for the game high in scoring with 23 points and Varejao poured in 22 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

Varejao, KG, Pierce

Kevin Garnett and the Celtics will need to keep their eyes glued to the glass tonight as they take on Anderson Varejao and the Cavaliers.
NBAE/Getty Images

Believe it or not, it’s conceivable that both of those players will make the All-Star team. The problem is that they don’t have much help around them in Cleveland. The Cavaliers are the second-worst shooting team in the league with a field goal percentage of just 41.6 percent. Four Cavs other than Irving and Varejao are averaging double-figures in scoring, but none of those four players are making more than 40.5 percent of their shots. That is about as inefficient as an offense can be.

Sadly for Boston, it can’t claim that its offense has been much better of late. The Celtics are currently on a three-game losing streak and they did not score more than 89 points in any of those three contests. Rajon Rondo carried the scoring load last night with a game-high 26 points, but Boston’s reserves combined to shoot just 21.7 percent from the field.

Despite the fact that the C’s are traveling and playing on the same day, they should be able to shoot with much more efficiency tonight. They’re taking on a Cleveland team that is worst in the league in opponent field goal percentage, which could play a large role in Boston’s attempt to snap its current losing streak.

A Test for Rondo

Rondo was great on offense last night, but the C’s will need him to be great on defense tonight. Keeping up with Irving is one of the greatest challenges in this league.

Irving can do it all. He has great quickness, vision and shooting ability, and he can put himself into take-over mode when he pleases. The Celtics found that out last season when Irving led a 12-0 run to close a game in TD Garden, leaving Boston with a crushing 88-87 defeat. Irving scored 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting that night against defensive stalwart Avery Bradley. Let’s hope Rondo can prevent a similar performance by Irving tonight.

Heightened Attention to the Glass

Varejao is having a career year scoring the basketball with an average of 14.1 points per game, but Boston shouldn’t be concerned with that. The C’s should pay attention to the fact that the big man is leading the league in rebounding – and by a wide margin – with an average of 14.4 rebounds per game. Varejao has grabbed at least 10 boards in all but five games this season, and he has grabbed at least 15 boards in 15 of his 25 games.

Everyone knows that the Celtics do not have a dominant rebounder on their roster, and every Celtics fan knows that Varejao tends to play great against Boston. The C’s will need all of their big men to keep track of Varejao tonight and hope that he doesn’t dominate the glass.

Aggressively Trap Irving

The Celtics have been burned in the past few games when they’ve trapped on the perimeter. They should not allow those results to affect their game plan tonight.

Irving is electric at the offensive end of the court and Boston would be smart to try to take the ball out of his hands as often as possible. The C’s shouldn’t worry too much about what happens behind those traps, because unlike the past few teams they have faced, this Cavs team is devoid of shooters. If anything, Boston should do its best to entice players like Dion Waiters and Alonzo Gee to fire up a high volume of shots.