WALTHAM, Mass. – Like most NBA teams, Brad Stevens and his coaches pay attention not only to the analytic numbers of opponents, but trends as well.
When it comes to Cleveland (50-27), even with them coming into the TD Garden riding a three-game winning streak and a share of the best record in the East with the Celtics (50-27), Cleveland’s defense has been horrible for several weeks.
For the season, their defensive rating is 108.1 which ranks 23rd in the NBA. Since the all-star break, they have been second-to-last in the league with a 112.3 rating.
Stevens knows the data back and forth on the Cavs.
But Stevens also takes into account what we call the "eye test."
And the Cleveland team that he has seen and the one that has struggled statistically, are not necessarily one in the same.
“One of the things when you talk about teams, you have to talk in terms of averages; talk in terms of what the stats say and anything else," Stevens said. "But then there’s a coaching and playing side as you’re preparing for a team. And it’s a lot more about what they are capable of.”
But here’s the weird thing about this Cleveland-Boston matchup this season.
Cleveland's numbers against Boston defensively, aren’t all that different than their regular season or post-All Star break numbers.
In the three games they have played this season, the Cavs have a defensive rating of 115.7.
And in the two Cleveland wins, the Cavs’ defensive rating is even worst (118.3).
Still, the Celtics refuse to let the numbers trump what they’ve seen up close and personal this season when facing the reigning NBA champs.
“This is a really good team,” Stevens said. “They’ve had their moments when they haven’t played quite as well. At the end of the day, this team can score on anybody at any time. And we’ve all seen them turn it up to a defensive level where they’re really difficult to score on. I thought they defended us really well in early March. I don’t think, my perspective, I don’t look at them as a team where they stand by the numbers. I’ve seen in the past what they are capable of.”
And besides, regardless of the numbers or games they have lost, Boston players know that any shot they have at getting out of the Eastern Conference will have to include having to go through the Cavaliers.
Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said he still sees the Cavs as the team to beat in the East.
“They are. They’re defending champions,” Thomas said. “It definitely goes through them and the whole world knows that. It should be a really good game tomorrow. Everybody is ready for it.”