Boston Celtics (29-8) vs
Cleveland Cavaliers (28-6)
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Friday, January 9, 2009
8:00 PM EST
Just another game? Hardly. The Cavaliers have literally spent this entire season trying to validate themselves as legit title contenders. They faced a setback on opening night against the Celtics when they blew an early lead and ended up watching the Celtics celebrate another victory over the Cavaliers. Now, as things stand today, the Cavaliers are tied with the Lakers for the best record in the NBA. We are watching the Cavs attempt to make the leap from title contender to title favorite, and it starts with securing home court advantage.
The Cavaliers are an NBA-best 18-0 at home this year. They’re average point differential is an NBA-best +12.3 ppg. They are first in points against per game. First in opponents FG%. First in offensive efficiency. First in defensive efficiency. But for all the accolades, all the optimism, all the enthusiasm….the Cavaliers still lack that signature win. Tonight will be a great opportunity for the Cavaliers to make that statement.
Projected Starting Lineups
-G Rajon Rondo (10.9 ppg, 7.5 apg, 2.2 spg, 18.96 PER)
-G Ray Allen (17.7 ppg, 2.8 apg, .374 3P%, 17.48 PER)
-F Paul Pierce (19.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.7 apg, 18.32 PER)
-F Kevin Garnett (16.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 20.87 PER)
-C Kendrick Perkins (8.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 13.53 PER)
Injuries: Tony Allen (day-to-day)
Key Reserves: Leon Powe, Eddie House, Glen Davis, Tony Allen
-G Mo Williams (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg, 0.8 spg, 16.36 PER)
-G Delonte West (12.2 ppg, 3.6 apg, .386 3P%, 15.41 PER)
-F LeBron James (27.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 6.6 apg, 32.04 PER)
-F Ben Wallace (3.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 13.24 PER)
-C Anderson Varejao (9.4 ppg, 7.2 rpb, 0.7 bpg, 17.12 PER)
Injuries: Zydrunas Ilgauskas (out), Eric Snow (out)
Key Reserves: Daniel Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak, JJ Hickson
Team Efficiency Stats
-Off (100.6 ppg, 42.8 rpg, .480 FG%, .767 FT%, 21.8 apg, Eff-107.2, Rank-7)
-Def (91.4 ppg, 37.6 rpg, .422 FG%, Eff-96.6, Rank-2)
-Off (101.5 ppg, 41.9 rpg, .479 FG%, .764 FT%, 20.6 apg, Eff-110.4, Rank-1)
-Def (89.1 ppg, 38.0 rpg, .420 FG%, Eff-96.2, Rank-1)
- Cleveland 85 at Boston 90 [box]
Tonight will be by far the biggest test of the season at home for the Cavaliers. Their 18-0 home record will be on the line for sure tonight. However, the Cavaliers have traditionally played the Celtics very well at the Q. In fact, the Cavaliers have won 9 straight games at home against the Celtics dating back to the 2004-05 season. Many times, the games were not close, either.
The other thing the Cavaliers have going for them is that Boston has been playing even worse basketball lately than the Cavaliers have. While the Cavs are just 2-2 in their last 4 games, the Celtics have lost 3 straight games and have lost 6 of their last 8 games dating back to the Christmas day loss to the Lakers that snapped their 19 game winning streak.
You still have to like Boston’s starting lineup more than the Cavaliers’ starting lineup, as the Celtics have the edge at PG, SG, and PF. Where the biggest difference in these teams lies is in the bench units. Boston’s bench has really been struggling lately, and they are starting to really miss the likes of James Posey and PJ Brown. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers bench has been pretty solid this year. Perhaps not the most consistent unit ever, but it seems like on almost any given night someone off the Cavs bench steps up and makes a huge impact on the game. In the first game against the Celtics, the Cavaliers built a big lead early only to see it disappear when Mike Brown did a mass line change and swapped out Mo, LeBron, and Z at the same time. Coach Brown has learned since then how to use his bench, and the team has been incredibly efficient at maintaining, and sometimes even adding to, the team’s lead while LeBron is getting his breathers. This is one of the biggest areas of improvement for the Cavaliers this season, and it could be an area where the Cavaliers can take advantage of one of the Celtics’ few flaws.
Another key whenever the Cavaliers play the Celtics is defending Rajon Rondo. In fact, I would argue that for all the exciting matchups these games present, when the Celtics play the Cavaliers, the Celtics tend to go as Rondo goes. The nature of the Cavaliers’ help defense is to cut off penetrators at the point of attack and to use the rotations to help cut off the passing lanes. However, when you have someone consistently beating the help with their penetration, it can lead to a LOT of easy baskets in the paint under the hoop. The Celtics have been excellent in the past at using Rondo to drive and then dish underneath the hoop for an easy layup. When the Cavaliers begin to sag their defense down low to be quicker to help, that’s when Rondo starts dishing to Pierce and Allen for wide open looks from the outside. Stopping Rondo is a lot to ask of Mo Williams, so ideally the quicker Delonte West will get the assignment of keep Rondo out of the driving lanes.
There’s nothing better than the classic LeBron James vs Paul Pierce matchups as 2 of the absolute best SFs in the NBA square off head to head. Pierce absolutely loves going at LeBron, and visa versa. It’s always fun to watch. The one thing LeBron can’t afford to do again is let Pierce cancel him out. When Pierce is able to cancel out LeBron for the most part, the Celtics have a great chance of winning. LeBron needs to make sure he wins the individual battle with Pierce.
All in all, there’s been a lot of talk throughout the years about the Cavaliers biggest rivals being the Washington Wizards. I have long rejected that idea, and I don’t think it’s true. The Cavaliers can never match the Lakers on the Celtic’s radar screen as far as rivals go, but the LeBron James/Paul Pierce rivalry is the best individual rivalry that not many people notice. For years these 2 have gone at it against each other, and at times it has gotten heated. Now, it’s beginning to spread to their respective teams. The Cavaliers pushed the Celtics harder than anyone else did last season, and now this year again it’s the Cavaliers and Celtics fighting for regular season supremacy in the Eastern Conference. Tonight isn’t a must win for the Cavaliers, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t an important game. If the Cavaliers can get home court advantage throughout the playoffs, you have to like their chances based on their home record. You can’t win home court advantage without winning games like this one tonight. It’s going to be a fun one.
From The Outside Looking In
Next Game For The Cavaliers
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
8:00 PM EST
Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies