Ways for Celtics to avoid stumbling in trap game against Cavaliers
BOSTON -- It’s hard to ignore what lies ahead for the Boston Celtics for the remainder of this week.
When you talk about going from one basketball extreme to another, tonight’s matchup against Cleveland followed by Saturday’s heavily anticipated battle with Golden State is exactly what folks are talking about. The Cavs (9-39) have the worst record in the NBA, and the Celtics drilled them by 33 points earlier this season. It's hard not to look past them, especially knowing three days from now, the two-time defending NBA champs Warriors will come to town for their lone trip to Boston this season . . . barring the NBA Finals, which would mean the season will end with the Finals matchup many predicted.
But before the Celtics can hone in on the Warriors, they must first dispose of the Cavaliers. So here are five, look-ahead keys to Boston’s upcoming game against Cleveland.
POINTS CREATED BY ASSISTS
The Celtics’ ball movement is one of the more underrated weapons they have utilized this season. It shows up in many ways, including points generated by assists. During the current winning streak, Boston has averaged 67.5 points via assists, which ranks fifth in the NBA. For the season, they rank sixth with 65.0 points per game. You can add shoddy ball-handling to the list of problems experienced by the Cavaliers this season with a league-low 48.6 points per game via assist.
The patience many have had with Hayward may be thinning out, with the 6-foot-8 wing continuing to play up-and-down basketball. But the Cavs are the kind of foe Hayward could easily torch. When the two teams met earlier, Hayward only had 14 points but did so on an efficient 6-for-9 shooting performance to go with four rebounds and four assists in Boston’s 128-95 win over the Cavs. January has been his best month of the season, averaging 12.7 points while shooting 49 percent from the field and 35.9 percent on 3’s . . . which is solid considering he has scored in single figures and shot less than 50 percent from the field in five of his last six games. In other words, he’s due for a big game scoring the ball.
BACKUP POWER SURGE
The Celtics’ second unit has averaged 38.7 points per game this season, which, according to Hoopsstats.com, ranks 11th in the NBA. Cleveland has one of the better scoring benches in the NBA, but don’t get it twisted. Their plus/minus this season is a league-worst -11.2, which means they play a lot of games that end in lopsided fashion. And that results in the Cavs emptying the bench more than most teams and thus leads to inflated scoring from the bench, which spends a lot of time generating points when the game’s outcome has pretty much been decided.
This will be the second time Boston has played Cleveland this season and Aron Baynes has gotten the start in both games in place of Al Horford, who will sit out tonight’s game to rest. In the first meeting, Baynes had a near double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds to go along with three assists. While his scoring and rebounding are certainly welcomed, it will be Baynes’ ability to patrol the middle of the paint that will make this a good night for the veteran big man. He comes into tonight’s game with a defensive rating of 97.2, which is tops in the NBA among players who have appeared in at least 25 games while logging a minimum of 14 minutes per contest.
HOME COURT ADVANTAGE
Coaches often say the mindset on the road and at home must stay the same, but there’s no mistaking how different the Celtics are when they play in front of their home fans. Glimpses of the team many anticipated would steamroll through the Eastern Conference have been on display at home lately. They come into tonight’s game riding a season-high nine straight wins at TD Garden and should have no problem getting that streak to double digits tonight. Boston has an 18-5 home record this season. In the 18 wins, the average margin of victory has been 15.8 points. That includes wins over teams ahead of them in the standings -- Toronto, Indiana and Philadelphia -- by an average of 14.3 points each.