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Three Keys: Cavaliers at Celtics

Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Key: Battle in Beantown

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Following Saturday night’s loss in Philly, Coach John Beilein spoke about the Cavaliers brutal slate – taking on one playoff team after another throughout the month of December. And on Monday, they face their second straight Eastern Conference heavyweight – and the second straight squad that hasn’t lost at home: the Boston Celtics.

Cleveland might be best served to have selective amnesia in regards to Saturday night’s blowout in Philadelphia – as the Sixers scored the game’s first 10 points and never looked back, extending their lead to 40-plus before intermission and extending their edge to as high as 53 before calling off the dogs in the Wine & Gold’s sixth straight defeat.

After winning 10 of their first 11 and coming into the contest as the East’s second-best squad, the Celtics are a team headed in the opposite direction of the Cavs. They’ve won their last three, including two straight against some heavy-hitters in their own right – hanging a 19-point loss on the Heat and beating the Nuggets by 13 to stay undefeated (9-0) at the Garden.

Tonight’s contest is the second of four meetings against Boston this year, with Cleveland making a return trip two days after Christmas. The Celtics dropped the Wine & Gold at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse back on November 5, despite six Cavaliers in double-figures and a 40-26 edge in bench scoring.

Key: Fast Forward

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In that December 5 loss to Boston, forward Gordon Hayward was almost unstoppable – going off for 39 points, going 17-of-20 from the floor to go with a game-high eight assists.

Four nights later, the former Butler standout fractured his hand in a lopsided win over the Spurs, forcing him to miss the next 13 games. But according to reports, there’s a chance the All-Star forward could return ahead of schedule for tonight’s meeting.

The Celtics have barely missed a beat in his absence, sliding Jaylen Brown into the starting lineup. The fourth-year swingman from Cal has responded by posting the best statistical season of his young career – averaging an even 20.0 points, posting eight 20-point games and a pair of 30-point efforts, shooting better than 50 percent in each of his last six outings.

Cedi Osman, who’ll spend much of his Monday night trying to check Brown (and possibly Hayward), had been on a recent roll before – like many of his teammates – struggling against Philadelphia.

Before Saturday’s clunker in Philly, Osman had tallied double-figures in six of his previous seven games – averaging 13.7 points per over that stretch.

He grabbed a team-high 12 boards in Cleveland’s sole win in the last 12 games (against Portland) and finished with a game-high four steals against Orlando in the final game before this current Cavs roadie.

Key: Guarded Optimism

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Kemba Walker’s stats have taken a slight dip since signing with the Celtics, but you’re not going to hear the three-time All-Star complain.

After eight outstanding seasons with Charlotte, Walker has found a true home in Boston. And even with his offensive numbers down, he still leads the Celtics in scoring, assists and free throw percentage.

As a member of the Hornets, Walker has had some big nights against the Wine & Gold – and he picked up where he left off in the first meeting as a Celtic, tallying 25 points in Boston’s November 5 victory at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, going 6-of-8 from beyond the arc, adding eight boards, three assists and a pair of blocks.

On Saturday night, the man who’ll spend most of his Monday trying to check Walker – rookie Darius Garland – was one of the few Cavaliers to have a productive game, leading Cleveland with 17 points in an otherwise forgettable evening.

Garland – who drilled three triples against Philly – ranks 11th in his rookie class in scoring (11.0), 5th in assists (2.9), 4th in free throw percentage (.852) and is tied for 5th in three-point makes (36).

Collin Sexton – who’s posted 95 career double-digit scoring performances, tops among his 2018 Draft class – will also get an up-close-and-personal look at Walker on Monday night. Sexton led the Cavaliers with 21 points in the previous meeting between these two squads back in early November.

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