Game Preview: Cavaliers at Celtics
The Boston Celtics went into their lengthy holiday break with three losses in five nights, leaving them grateful for a chance to regroup.
The Cleveland Cavaliers figure to be happy they won't have to wait very long to put their latest defeat behind them.
Both the Celtics and Cavaliers will try to avoid a fourth consecutive loss Saturday at TD Garden, with Boston playing for the first time in six days and Cleveland trying to recover from a considerably more recent heartbreaker.
The Celtics blew a 27-point lead in a 107-106 loss to Detroit on Dec. 18, then coughed up an 18-point cushion in falling to Washington 106-99 last Saturday. They were blown out 106-79 at Indiana a night later.
A five-day layoff after Boston's most lopsided loss of the season was exactly what forward Jared Sullinger thought his team needed.
"I thought it helped us out big time because we got to put it in the rear-view mirror," Sullinger told the team's official Twitter feed Friday.
Brad Stevens doesn't think rust will be an issue.
"I've had 13 straight years of this break," the former Butler coach said. "I kind of know how to manage the days leading up to the first game."
The Cavaliers have lost five of six, two of which came in particularly grueling fashion. Portland's Damian Lillard hit a 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left to hand Cleveland a 119-116 loss Dec. 17, then Atlanta's Jeff Teague knocked down a 20-footer as time expired Thursday to give the Hawks a 127-125 double-overtime win at Quicken Loans Arena.
"He made a tough play," said Kyrie Irving, who finished with 40 points and nine assists but also six of the Cavaliers' season high-tying 24 turnovers. "It's definitely a heartbreaker."
Irving has accounted for four of the 13 games this season in which a player has put up at least 39 points - no one else has more than two - but his last two trips to Boston haven't gone well. He missed 16 of 20 shots in a 97-91 Cavaliers win April 5, then had two of his 18 points after halftime in a 103-86 loss Nov. 29.
Cleveland is 5-1 this season when Irving scores more than 30 points and 5-17 when he doesn't.
Conversely, big scoring efforts from Dion Waiters have meant little. The second-year guard returned from a three-game absence Thursday to put up 20 points off the bench, but the Cavaliers fell to 4-13 when Waiters cracks double figures - including a 21-point performance in Boston last month.
They're 6-5 when he's been held to fewer than 10 or hasn't played.
Regardless of the results, Irving's and Waiters' ability to score has Stevens' attention.
"I think they've figured out what they do best, and they have a couple of guards who can get wherever they want," Stevens said.
Boston's Jeff Green has struggled recently, averaging 10.6 points on 37.7 percent shooting over his last five games, but he's been a huge problem for a Cleveland team with a revolving door at the small forward position. Green has averaged 25.0 points in his last three against the Cavaliers, including a season-high 31 last month.
While the Celtics wait for Rajon Rondo to recover, their current starting backcourt has made some strides. Avery Bradley has averaged 17.0 points and 51.4 percent shooting in his last five games while Jordan Crawford has had four 20-point games this month.
Crawford had his third career triple-double (11 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) while Bradley had 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting last month against Cleveland.