Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers meet at 8 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.
A Lot on the Line
The NBA’s schedule makers look like geniuses right now after scheduling a Celtics-Cavs tilt during the final week of the season. Who could have ever predicted that so much would be on the line?
Boston and Cleveland enter tonight’s game with the exact same record, at 50-27 on the season. The two teams are tied for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Whichever team wins this game will have the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the Playoffs. In other words, whichever team wins this game will have the inside track to home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
This game is much more critical to Boston than it is to Cleveland. The Celtics will not control the tie-breaker with Cleveland under any circumstances – the Cavs will own the tie-breaker via head-to-head record or conference record if a tie occurs – so if they lose this game, they would need to make up two full games in the standings during the final four games of the season.
Who Plays, Who Doesn’t?
This conversation will begin with the Celtics, who, not surprisingly, aren’t whole at the moment. Avery Bradley is likely to return from a two-game absence due to an illness, and Jae Crowder is listed as probable for tonight’s game with a sore left elbow. Crowder, however, certainly didn’t seem probable following Tuesday’s practice.
Crowder, who did not participate in practice but did get up some shots before the session, told reporters that his elbow felt “very, very tender and sore” and that he was still experiencing swelling. With the Playoffs just more than a week away, the C’s may take the cautious route with Crowder and rest him. Or, with so much on the line tonight, they may opt to play him if the injury is one that cannot be worsened.
On the other side of the ball are the Cavs, who are playing for the third time in four days and for the second time in as many nights. Cleveland downed Indiana during a double-overtime game Sunday night, and then beat Orlando last night. During those games, LeBron James totaled 89 minutes of action, Kyrie Irving played 76 minutes, and Kevin Love totaled 65 minutes. That’s a lot of wear and tear just over a week from playoff time.
The Cavs could ride it out through tonight with their full lineup, sans Tristan Thompson, who is out with a thumb injury, in an attempt to control the top seed in the East, or they could opt to rest some of their top players leading up to Friday’s matchup with Atlanta.
Cavs Back on Track?
March was not a good month for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They went just 7-10 during the month while showcasing one of the league’s worst defenses.
Many believed that the sky was falling down on the Cavs right before our very eyes. Cleveland, however, has bounced right back, just as reigning champs typically do.
The Cavs have rattled off three straight wins heading into tonight’s contest, including Sunday’s thrilling double-overtime win over Indiana. After allowing opponents to shoot 46.4 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from long range during March, Cleveland has dropped those numbers to 44.3 percent and 35.5 percent, respectively, during its last three games.
Home Court Advantage
Home court advantage may hinge on this game, and this game may hinge on home court advantage.
The home team has won all three of the contests played between these two teams this season. Cleveland won its two home games by six points apiece, and Boston won its home game by four points just more than a month ago.
The Celtics enter tonight’s game with an outstanding 28-10 record at home this season. They’d love nothing more than to up that record to 29-10 while taking an enormous step toward securing home court advantage during the Playoffs.
Both of these teams are known as high-volume 3-point shooting teams. As such, much of their success is tied to their ability to connect from downtown.
During Boston’s 50 victories this season, it has shot 37.8 percent from long range connecting on an average of 12.5 3-pointers per game. Those numbers have dropped to 32.9 percent and 11.0 3s during their 27 defeats.
Cleveland has experienced similar fate. It has shot 40.9 percent from long range during its 50 wins while making an average of 14.2 treys per game. During their 27 losses, the Cavs have shot just 34.4 percent from 3-point range and made an average of 10.9 3-pointers per game.
The moral of this story? The 3-point line is critical to both teams, and if one of them struggles from long distance, the other is likely to grab the win.