Cleveland Cavaliers (48-12) vs
Boston Celtics (48-14)
TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, MA
Friday, March 6, 2009
8:00 PM EST
In a game of this magnitude, writing an introduction to this preview feels a little superfluous. After all, I think it’s safe to assume most of you know what this game means and what’s on the line here. As far as the Cavaliers real rivalries go, this one is my favorite. I enjoy watching Cavs-Celtics games far more than I do Cavs-Pistons game, and I won’t even consider the fake Wizards rivalry that Washington fans try shoving down our throats. There’s just something special about LeBron James and Paul Pierce going at each other all game long. These two guys absolutely love playing one another and they always seem to bring out the best in their opponent. That’s what a real rivalry is about. The Cavs will never be able to take the place of the Lakers in the Celtics’ fans hearts, nor should they. That rivalry is a great, historic rivalry and is a part of the NBA’s fabric. But this will be the 14th time the Cavs and Celtics have played one another in the last 2 seasons (counting postseason…it’s their 17th matchup if you count preseason), and when you play another team that many times, and when the series is split exactly along home court lines, it means that the games have primarily been emotional roller coaster rides and fierce battles to the finish. Seriously, as a Cleveland sports fan, how does it get any better than this? Friday night, prime time, ESPN battle between the two best teams in the East!
Boston will be without KG in this game, Cleveland will be without Ben Wallace. Advantage Cleveland. Boston has added Mikki Moore and Stephon Marbury, Cleveland has added Joe Smith. Advantage Cleveland (at least I think….Marbury is still the wild card). This game is being played in Boston. HUGE advantage Boston. Boston is 2-2 in games they are favored by 0 to 3.5 points. Cleveland is 4-1 in games in which they are 0.5 to 3.5 underdogs. Advantage Cleveland?
This game has so many story lines in it, as these two teams fiercely battle for the top spot in the East. With a win tonight, Cleveland can open a 2 game lead in the Conference, which would be huge. No two teams in NBA history have ever played each other when both teams had at least a 17 game lead in their division….until tonight. Cleveland and Boston each hold 17.5 game leads. Back in January, the Cavaliers beat Boston in Cleveland without Big Z. Tonight the Celtics will try to beat Cleveland in Boston without KG.
Throughout all the cool and interesting storylines, though, this game still comes down to the matchups. As usual, Mo Williams will probably start out defending Rajon Rondo, but if Rondo gets going in anyway, the Cavs will be quick to slide Delonte over on him to cut him off at the point of attack. If you can stop Rondo from slicing through the perimeter defense, you have a good chance of beating the Celtics. Unfortunately for Cleveland, that’s easier said than done. In January’s matchup, though, it was the adjustment of putting West on Rondo that made the difference in that game. West hounded Rondo all night and made everything difficult on the young PG.
Then there’s the LeBron vs Pierce matchup. I say this probably every single time I preview the Cavs and Celtics, but LeBron’s biggest rival in the entire NBA isn’t Kobe or Wade or Melo….rather, his biggest rival is Paul Pierce. These two guys go at each other harder than any other matchup for LeBron. Pierce is just about the closest thing LeBron has to a true peer at the SF position. Pierce makes LeBron work for everything, and visa versa. It seems like a lot of times these two guys square off they end up kind of cancelling each other out a bit, but when the Cavaliers beat the Celtics, it’s usually in games in which LeBron does a good job of limiting Pierce to under 20-25 points.
Finally, there’s the rebounding matchup. The Celtics not having Garnett and the Cavaliers adding Joe Smith both work well for the Cavs in the frontcourt, but there’s just something about Leon Powe and Glen Davis…..one of those two always seems to step up and just kill the Cavs on the boards. With Z back and with Joe Smith coming off the bench, keep an eye on the Cavaliers rebounding numbers tonight. If the Cavaliers get back to rebounding at levels close to last season, combined with their improved offensive and defensive play, the Cavaliers have a chance to be even more difficult to stop.
Beating the Celtics tonight would be huge, but it doesn’t clinch anything. The Cavaliers’ 3rd to last game this year is at home on Sunday, April 12th at 3:30 pm on ABC. If you think tonight’s game is huge, just think how big that game has the potential to be. A win tonight could go a long way toward making that April 12th game a must-win game for the Celtics rather than a must-win game for the Cavaliers.