Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Celtics

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Go for the Green

The Cavaliers squad the Celtics will see on Sunday afternoon is not the one they were planning on a few days ago. Instead, the new-look Wine & Gold roll in with a revamped starting five and even more firepower off the bench.

Cleveland is one game removed from a series of deals that reshaped the roster for the season’s second-half – with incoming Cavaliers, Larry Nance Jr., George Hill, Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson all set to see action against the Celtics.

None of the new Cavs were available on Friday night, but that didn’t stop the shorthanded Cavaliers from taking the season series over Atlanta – pulling away late in the third to lock up the 16-point win to start their three-game roadie.

The Celtics, who’ve dropped two of their last three to fall out of the East’s top spot, are coming off a Friday night home loss to the surprising Pacers.

Cleveland took the first meeting of the season in the home opener, but Boston bounced back in the last meeting – holding the Wine & Gold to 35 percent shooting in a two-TD defeat back on January 3.

To say that at least one of the two squads from that matchup is different would be an understatement, and on Sunday afternoon we’ll begin discovering how the Cleveland’s youngbloods will fare on the big stage in Boston.

Key: One Hill of a Trade

On Saturday afternoon, the quartet of newcomers were able to practice with their new team in Atlanta before the squad departed for Beantown – and one of them, George Hill, will be in the starting lineup at Sunday afternoon’s tipoff.

He’ll take over for Jose Calderon, who stepped back into the starting lineup, where he’s posted a 17-8 record so far this season. Once again, the 13-year vet was rock-solid, notching 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, adding five boards and an assist while committing just a pair of turnovers in 20 minutes of work.

George Hill comes into Sunday’s contest as the league’s second-best three-point shooter (.453), having tallied double-figures in 24 games this season with Sacramento – including each of the two meetings with the Wine & Gold this campaign.

He’ll have his work cut out for him in his Cavs debut, taking on one of the most lethal offensive point guards in the Association as the Cavs matchup against their old friend, Kyrie Irving, for the third and final time this regular season.

The five-time All-Star is having another outstanding season scoring the basketball – leading Boston at 24.7 ppg on a career-best .485 shooting. The former No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland in 2011 doubled-up with 22 points and 10 assists in the opener but was limited to just 11 on 5-for-14 shooting in Boston’s early-January victory at The Garden.

Key: Bench Trial

In Friday’s win over Atlanta, the Cavaliers’ second unit – basically Kyle Korver and Jeff Green – combined for 57 points, with the two veteran reserves accounting for 54 of them.

In the victory, Korver went off for 30 points – drilling four straight bombs to put the game away late in the third. Green added 24 points, going 9-of-16 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from deep. Together they became the first bench combo to score at least 20 points since Ricky Davis and Lamond Murray back in 2002.

The two vets and Cleveland’s second unit are about to get an infusion of youth beginning Sunday – with Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson making their Cavs debut in Boston.

In 27 games off the bench for Utah, Hood averaged 16.5 points, having posted games of 30 and 31 points already this season. The versatile Nance is having his best season as a pro and, with the departures of Channing Frye and Jae Crowder (plus the absence of Kevin Love) Nance’s length will be invaluable. Clarkson has almost exclusively come off the bench this season for the Lakers and he comes into Sunday’s matchup averaging 14.4 ppg – second among all reserves.

Cleveland already has the fifth-ranked second unit the league; it’ll be interesting to see how the young guns improve an already-solid unit.

Key: Celtic Stopper

After a month of un-LeBron-like play, LBJ has been back to his old tricks this week – following up his monster performance in Wednesday’s overtime win over Minnesota with another triple-double – the eighth time in his career he’s done so in back-to-back contests – in Friday’s win over the Hawks. And although he was initially credited with 17 assists, the league adjusted that mark to 19 – a new career-high – to go with 22 points and 12 boards, going 8-for-20 from the floor and 6-of-7 from the stripe.

A revitalized LeBron James can’t be good news for the Celtics, the Eastern Conference squad that Numeral 23 loves to hate.

In 48 career contests against Boston, James is averaging 29.4 points, 7.1 boards and 6.7 assists. James has been his usual efficient self against Brad Stevens’ squad this season, finishing one assist shy of a triple-double in the home opener before struggling like the rest of his teammates in Boston’s win over Cleveland in the previous meeting.

For most of Sunday afternoon, James will square off against a rookie, but he’s no ordinary NBA freshman.

Jayson Tatum has been everything the Celts had hoped for and more – piling up points on pace with some of Boston’s all-time greats through the first 56 games of his career and currently ranked 10th in the Association, shooting 43 percent from long-range.

Key: The Young Cedi

Jayson Tatum might be the high-profile rookie in Sunday’s tilt, but Cleveland comes into the game with a rookie who’s recently emerged after spending the first half of the season under the radar.

Cedi Osman will get his second start in the matinee matchup against Boston after a strong two-way performance on Wednesday night and another strong showing in his first career start on Friday night in Atlanta.

In that Cavaliers victory, the 22-year-old from Macedonia did a little bit of everything – finishing with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, adding six boards, five assists and three steals.

Osman will lock horns with one of Boston’s prized youngsters, Jaylen Brown, who’s more than doubled his offensive production in his second season out of Cal.

Brown’s been very good against the Wine & Gold this season – averaging 19.5 points and 7.0 boards through the first two contests, including a 25-point effort in the opener, going 11-for-23 from the floor to go with eight boards.

The Cavaliers brought in an infusion of youth at the Deadline on Thursday; turns out they’ve had a rock-solid rookie on the roster the entire time.

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