LAST TIME OUT
The Cleveland Cavaliers (10-18) had multiple chances to close out the Atlanta Hawks at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night: at the end of regulation, at the end of overtime and, again, at the end of a second overtime. Missed opportunity after missed opportunity resulted in yet another loss, as a Jeff Teague jumper rimmed in, rimmed out and then finally fell down for good to give the Hawks the 127-125 win. It was a thriller, but at the same time a heartbreaker for Cavs fans that have seen their team struggle through a current 1-5 slide.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Boston Celtics
Record: 12-17 (7-8 home)
Tipoff: Dec. 28 at 1 p.m. – TD Garden
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Matchup: 103-86 Cavaliers loss at TD Garden – Nov. 29
Opponent’s Blog: Hardwood Houdini
Celtics: PG Rajon Rondo (OUT, knee)
Whoever Comes Out The Most Energized Will Win
The Celtics have been dealing with similar issues in regards to the effort that the Cavs have been showcasing on the hardwood as of late. The 2-5 stretch that Boston is currently struggling through almost parallels the issues that the Wine & Gold are dealing with over their past six games. In four of Boston’s five losses, the team has given up 100-plus points, while the Cavaliers have sacrificed 100 points or more in all five of their recent losses. The problems stem from a lack of urgency early on in games by both squads. Mike Brown has pointed it out and Boston players like Jeff Green and Avery Bradley have noticed the lethargic performances by watching film of the degrading defeats. The Cavs did show some heart against the Hawks—matching Atlanta for most of the game—and the Celtics have had a six-day break to go over problem areas in film. This will be a game decided by how the teams start off the first quarter.
Kyrie Irving Needs To Step Up Every Night
Kyrie scored 17 points in the matchup against the Celtics at TD Garden last time around in a blowout loss, but since then we’ve seen a different pint guard on the court (sans the atrocious Atlanta game). A lot of fans have been calling out Irving this season for not being able to play up to matchups against PGs who aren’t considered among the elite in the League. With that said, the Celtics will be throwing different sets consisting of Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford at the Cleveland backcourt all day long in an attempt to prevent them to get their points from outside the paint. This will bode well for Dion Waiters when paired with Irving, but the All-Star will have to find a way to penetrate in the paint–which he has proven to be very good at–if he wants to avoid another embarrassing defeat. Let’s hope he can replicate some of his prior performances at TD Garden in this one instead of resurrecting the most recent one.
Road Tested, Road Approved?
After the Saturday afternoon contest against the Celtics, Cleveland will only have two more games away from the Q before their biggest road test of the season: a five-game set out West against some of the opposite conference’s best. At some point the Cavaliers are going to have to come out of games away from the shores of Lake Erie with the sense of urgency that head coach Mike Brown has been calling for over the past week-plus. Against Atlanta, I finally saw a glimpse of what Brown is calling for, and besides some poor execution, missed opportunities and sloppy ball handling, Cleveland matched the third-best team in the East blow for blow for 58 minutes. That proved to me that this team is “getting there.” Now all they need to do is bring that same type of energy on the road for 48 minutes and we should start to see some watchable away games.
I think this team is finally buying into Coach Brown’s system, as somewhat evidenced in the loss against Atlanta. With Boston coming off of a blowout loss against the Pacers on Dec. 22 and then going on a five-game break, I think the rust will show and the Cavs will (finally) jump out to a big first quarter lead on the road. Holding it will prove to be tough, but the Wine & Gold will come away with a six-point victory over the Cs. And then a Golden State team that crushed San Antonio the other night awaits them at home on Sunday.