Boston Celtics (0-0) vs
Cleveland Cavaliers (0-0)
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
7:30 PM EST
Here we are once more. Back for another season of NBA basketball, and tonight the Cleveland Cavaliers look to pick up where they left off last season at home. After going 39-2 at the Q last year, we all know if will be awfully tough for the team to match that record again this year, but if the Cavaliers want to have any hope of doing so, they need to get off to a good start. And so we welcome in our old nemesis, the Boston Celtics. It feels like it’s becoming an annual rite of passage to kick the season off against the Celtics (even though this is only the 2nd year in a row), and this year will be no exception. These teams know each other all too well, and after 2 seasons of home team domination, we continue to wait to see which team will be the first to get a road win in this series. Here’s to hoping it won’t be Boston’s time to shine tonight.
Projected Starting Lineups (All stats from 2008-09)
For what it’s worth, season openers have not been kind to LeBron James and the Cavaliers. In the LeBron James era, the Cavaliers are just 2-4 in season openers while LeBron himself averages “just” 23.67 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in openers. He’s only scored more than 25 points three times, has only had more than 6 rebounds twice, and has only had more than 6 assists twice. So perhaps it’s unfair to expect LeBron and company to come blasting out of the gates.
On the other hand, I think the Cavaliers have an awful lot to prove tonight. There’s been a lot of people questioning whether or not the LeBron-Shaq partnership is going to work, and after the way the team got torn apart by the Celtics last week in Columbus, I expect the Cavaliers to want to make a point early in this game. The question will be a) whether or not that chemistry is there from the beginning and b) how effective the Celtics are at stopping the Cavaliers.
Delonte West has been listed as doubtful for this game, so it remains to be seen what his role will be, but for the rest of the Cavaliers, it’s going to be fun to see what kind of rotations Mike Brown uses and what kind of offensive sets the team is using. Will they go in to Shaq early in this game? How comfortable will Anthony Parker be in the offense. Will Mo Williams be content letting Shaq and LeBron get themselves going before he starts getting himself going? These are going to be fun points to watch for.
If you remember last year’s opener with Boston, the Cavaliers jumped out to an early 22-11 lead over Boston, but then in the 2nd quarter Mike Brown basically made wholesale substitutions and the Celtics came roaring back. It was a quick lesson that you can’t have Mo, Delonte, and LeBron all sitting at the same time. This year, ideally, there will be more flexibility and depth to allow Mike Brown to make more wholesale changes should he choose to do so.
I look for LeBron and Shaq to play a lot of 2-man game early in this one, trying to be aggressive in going at the Celtics interior. With Glen Davis being out, along with Scalabrine, the Celtics are pretty thin up front in this game. If KG or Perk gets into foul trouble early, it could create a huge advantage for the Cavaliers front court. Regardless, you can expect Rasheed Wallace to log heavy minutes tonight, and don’t be surprised if Shelden Williams gets more minutes than you would typically expect.
If LeBron and Shaq can find a rhythm in their 2-man game on offense, it could open up the offense completely. With Celtics defenders being lulled in by Shaq and LeBron, it will create a lot of room for Andy to get open looks on cuts to the rim, or else it will leave Mo and Parker with a lot of wide open looks. This is the dynamic the Cavaliers were missing last year and I will be sorely disappointed in Mike Brown and the rest of the Cavaliers if they don’t use this to their advantage.
On defense, the Cavaliers are going to have some issues with Delonte being out. Namely, they have nobody who can slow down Rondo. As we have seen time and time again in this series, when Rondo is getting into the lane, the Cavaliers cannot stop the Celtics offense. With the way the Cavaliers rotate on their help assignments, when a guy is beating his man at the point of the attack, the Cavaliers will do a full rotation which tends to leave someone open on the back end of the rotation. This is fine against most teams, but the Celtics have so many weapons and are such a great team that they almost always exploit this rotation and make multiple passes out of it to get an uncontested shot in the lane. It will be up to Mo to step up his defense on Rondo, or else Anthony Parker is going to have to show that he can do it. The last resort would be using Jamario Moon’s size advantage to harass Rondo, but you wonder if Rondo would be able to get underneath Moon too easily. It’s a major matchup advantage for Boston and, in my opinion, the key matchup to watch in this game.
Finally, the last thing to watch for is of course the LeBron vs Pierce matchup. These 2 competitors absolutely hate each other, and they love squaring off against one another. We’ve seen some memorable performances by each of them throughout the years, and I never get tired of watching them go at each other. Paul Pierce is LeBron’s biggest rival in this league, and there’s nothing like the show they tend to put on. As I pointed out earlier, LeBron typically gets off to slow starts (last year he had 22/7/6 in Boston in the opener), but we’ll see if tonight he finds the motivation to do something special for us.