Celtics vs. Cavs: How they match up

Celtics vs. Cavs: How they match up

BOSTON -- This is it!
The game we all knew was coming, but few anticipated would have so much on the line: The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers facing off, with the winner assuming first place in the Eastern Conference with just a handful of games remaining.

  • Watch the game at 8pm on CSN, or stream it on CSNNE.com or via the NBC Sports App 

While the incentive to win is strong for both teams, the Celtics need this win more than Cleveland.
Boston trails the head-to-head series 2-1, and a loss tonight to the Cavs would give them the series and with that, the tie-breaker in case these two finish with identical regular-season records.
But if the Celtics win and the season series is tied, a slew of tie-breaker rules will come into place, which could swing the top seed in Boston’s favor.
Before getting too caught up in talking about a tie-breaker, let’s take a look at the game at hand first.
Here’s a look at key matchups in what should be one of the best games of the season.
Point guards: Isaiah Thomas vs. Kyrie Irving
Thomas is the top scorer in the Eastern Conference, averaging 29.1 points per game. As good as he's been, the 5-foot-9 Thomas has been even better in the three meetings earlier this season against Cleveland. In those three games, he has averaged 30.7 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field. Irving ranks among the game’s best one-on-one scorers, and is clearly an elite. In the three games against Boston this season, he has lit the Celtics up for 27.7 points per game while shooting 57.4 percent from the field. But the difference between these two lies in their defense. Thomas’ defensive rating against the Cavs is 108.6. Irving’s defensive rating against Boston this season is noticeably worst at 123.1.
Shooting guard: Avery Bradley vs. J.R. Smith
Both players have missed significant chunks of the season due to injuries and illnesses, but there’s no question Bradley is the one in a better rhythm currently. He's Boston’s No. 2 scorer at 16.6 points per game, and its No. 2 rebounder (6.2) as well. Meanwhile, Smith is still trying to get his conditioning and shooting touch up to par after missing most of this season because of a thumb injury. He should be in a nice groove by the time the playoffs roll around, but don’t expect a huge offensive explosion from the veteran guard tonight.
Small forward: Jae Crowder vs LeBron James
Crowder is having a career season in several categories, and should be a name to consider to be named to one of the league’s All-Defensive teams. But like just about every small forward not named Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard, facing LeBron James will be an uphill battle. And that’s assuming Crowder (swollen left elbow) will be able to play tonight. James typically carries a heavy load every year, but it seems the Cavs have leaned on the perennial All-Star more than usual. You have to wonder just how much of a toll that will take on James leading up to the playoffs.
Power forward: Al Horford vs Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson or LeBron James
With Tristan Thompson (thumb) out, the Cavs will go with quickness (Jefferson), a stretch big (Frye) or their best player (James) tonight. If James gets the start at power forward, look for Iman Shumpert or Kyle Korver to get the starting nod. Whichever player the Cavs start at power forward, Horford will have an advantage in the block offensively. Let the chess match begin.

Center: Amir Johnson vs Kevin Love
This is a classic matchup between Mr. Intangibles (Johnson) and Mr. stat packer (Love). Both have a tremendous impact on the game for their respective teams. Johnson’s hustle for loose balls, his on-the-ball defense as well as the role he plays as a help defender, have all contributed to his success this season even when his minutes have been cut back significantly. As for Love, he’s one of the best rebounding big men in the NBA and has a perimeter game that teams have to respect as well as the ability to score around the rim. This will be a matchup to keep a close eye on that will far in determining tonight’s winner.


For the Celtics, this group’s success may be impacted by the status of Crowder, who would most likely be replaced by Jaylen Brown or Marcus Smart in the starting lineup. Either way, the second unit’s power would be reduced, which puts a greater premium on Kelly Olynyk to have a big game. The Cavs have a very perimeter-oriented bench led by Iman Shumpert, along with veterans Deron Williams, Richard Jefferson and Kyle Korver. The lone big man that sees time for the Cavs now is Channing Frye, who is more of a stretch big who doesn’t spend a ton of time around the rim. In addition to Olynyk, don’t be surprised if the Celtics get a big game scoring from Gerald Green or Terry Rozier.
Brad Stevens isn’t likely to get much support for Coach of the Year honors, but that doesn’t take away from what he’s done this season, particularly in preparation for big games like tonight’s against Cleveland. The Cavs are playing for the second time in as many nights, so there’s the potential that they could be catching the Cavs at the right time in terms of being a bit worn down. This is where Tyronn Lue’s coaching acumen is really tested. The Cavs may be the champs, but they have been on the ropes for a good stretch of the season only to find a way to win the games that they absolutely must have. A lot of credit goes to LeBron James, obviously. But some of the praise should go to Lue as well.

Horford helps Celtics get back on track

Horford helps Celtics get back on track

Aggressive Al Horford was on the floor Friday night for the Boston Celtics, a good sign for a Celtics team that has been battered by injuries. 

As the oldest member of the team, the 31-year-old’s leadership has to become more example-driven as well as existing in the spoken word.

CELTICS TALK PODCAST  - Smart's importance to C's, dissecting the East

Horford was on point for most of Friday’s 92-83 win over Orlando, a game that was far more lopsided in Boston’s favor than the final score might indicate.

The 6-foot-10 forward/center had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds. 

What was more telling was that Horford took a team-high 18 shots from the field, as clear a sign as you will find that Horford’s mindset on Friday was to attack Orlando’s defense early and often. 

And while it’s true that the Magic are one of the worst teams in the NBA, that doesn’t diminish the way Horford executed the plays called by head coach Brad Stevens as Horford played the role of primary scorer more often than usual, instead of being a major facilitator.

Having missed Boston’s previous two games, Horford was admittedly concerned if the lay-off might affect his conditioning. 

“Wind-wise I felt good,” Horford told reporters after Friday night’s win. “A little rusty on offense. But defensively I felt great. I felt our team came out with energy; just a good win.” 

A win that became a lot easier to get with Aggressive Al on the floor. 

 Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds in Boston’s 92-83 win over Orlando.



Terry Rozier: He continues to provide the Celtics with really solid guard play, with all-star guard Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) missing. Rozier had a game high-tying 17 points along with seven rebounds and five assists. 

Greg Monroe: The third quarter was when Monroe really began to take over the game. He finished with 17 points, 10 of which came in the third. 

Shelvin Mack: Not a lot to cheer about for Mack and the Magic who once again struggled in so many phases of the game. But Mack still managed to score 16 points. 



Al Horford: Having missed the two previous games, Horford was back in full force on Friday. He had 15 points on 6-for-18 shooting to go with nine rebounds

Boston rebounding: The Celtics control of the glass began from the outset and never really eased up. For the game, Boston grabbed 55 rebounds compared to just 40 by Orlando. 



Fourth-quarter Celtics: The only real blemish on an otherwise impressive performance by Boston, was the team’s overall play in the fourth quarter. Boston was outscored 31-17 and turned the ball over 10 times in the quarter. 


Celtics snap skid with dominant win over Magic, 92-83

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics snap skid with dominant win over Magic, 92-83

The Orlando Magic are one of the few teams already eliminated from playoff contention. 

And on Friday, it didn’t take long to see why.

CELTICS TALK PODCAST - Smart's importance, dissecting the Eastern Conference

The Boston Celtics didn’t waste any time taking control of the game and never letting up as they cruised to a 92-83 win.

Terry Rozier and Greg Monroe led the Celtics with 17 points each and Shelvin Mack had 16 points and seven rebounds for Orlando.  

With the win, the Celtics (47-22) snapped a two-game losing skid and improved their record since returning from the All-Star break to 7-3. 

Getting back on a winning track was just part of Boston’s motivation heading into Friday night’s game. 

With several key players out with injuries, the Celtics’ depth was once again on display from the opening tip to the final horn. 

In the first half, reserve guard Shane Larkin led the team in scoring with 10 points. 

And in the third quarter, backup center Greg Monroe was too much for the Magic to handle around the basket.

In the third, Monroe scored 10 of his 17 points off Boston’s bench. 

This was a game that the Celtics showed few signs of the kind of let-up we have seen them display against bad teams from time to time. 

But Orlando opened the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run that cut Boston’s lead down to 77-61 with 9:18 to play. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens had seen enough and called a time-out. 

Orlando was able to chip away a little more at Boston’s lead which peaked at 24 points but was down to single digits in the fourth which provided a glimmer of hope that maybe just maybe, the Magic could get back in the game.

But when it mattered, Boston made the plays in the game’s closing moments to secure the victory. 

For the Celtics, the goal on Friday night was two-fold: find a way to win and come away healthy. 

Boston found success on both fronts, a refreshing change the Celtics hope to do more of going forward. 

Marcus Smart underwent surgery on his right thumb earlier in the day, which is expected to keep him sidelined for 6-8 weeks which would put his return to the floor at the earliest, sometime near the end of the first round of the playoffs or early into the second. 

Daniel Theis underwent season-ending surgery recently for a meniscus tear in his left knee.

And Boston played without Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness), but he might back in the lineup for Sunday’s game against New Orleans.

Al Horford returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games due to an illness, and he didn’t disappoint in finishing with a near double-double of 15 point and nine rebounds.