Coming off of an ugly performance against the Toronto Raptors, the Cleveland Cavaliers will get no break as they take on the Celtics in Boston tonight. This will be the second game back for Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters, who scored eight points last night against the Raptors. The Celtics are also on the second night of a back-to-back, as they lost to the Bulls in Chicago last night. In fact, due to the time zone differences, the Cavs will actually be more adjusted to travel than the Celtics. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m., and will air live on FSN Ohio. The game will also be broadcasted over the radio on WTAM 1100 in Cleveland.
This game excites me for one major reason: the matchup between Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving. They are both among the best point guards in the league, but have very different styles. Rondo, the former Kentucky star, is a pass-first point guard. Statistically, this has been Rondo’s best season by far. While averaging 13.5 points, he is also scoring at the highest clip of his career. Irving, on the other hand, is averaging 23.7 points and 5.7 assists. This matchup will make this game worth watching even for the casual fan.
The Cavaliers are in midst of a real identity crisis right now. The inability to defend the pick and roll could be a major problem against the Celtics, who have a roster built to run that type of offense time and time again. If the Cavaliers are to win this game (which I think they can do), their pick-and-roll defense will have to improve. That starts, and largely ends, with Irving. At times, Irving has played great on defense, but on other nights, he looks lost.
The Celtics, considered to be a real title contender when the season started, have stumbled out to a 12-12 record thus far this season. On defense, long their strong point, the Celtics have struggled, only averaging 38.4 rebounds. They also are in the middle of the pack in points allowed, ranking 17th in the NBA at 98.0 points per game. Offensively, they aren’t any better – averaging 97.1 points. Boston, in order to win, will need to attack with the pick-and-roll game. Going right at Irving with Rondo is the best path for a Celtics victory. They will struggle to get rebounds against Varejao and Tristan Thompson, so they will need to be efficient offensively.
I like Boston in this game, but one X-Factor here is the Cavs’ tendency to play big on the big stages. Look at the games against the Heat and Knicks and the Oklahoma City game from last season. Led by Irving, the Cavs play up to their maximum ability on the big stages and could pull this out.
This just in: Anderson Varejao will not play for the Cavaliers tonight. He is out with a right knee injury.