Boston Celtics

Blakely's Celtics-Cavaliers preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Cavaliers preview

CLEVELAND It's hard to believe that the Boston Celtics' season is at a point where facing the Cleveland Cavaliers is a big game. But that's where we are as the two teams will be playing for the eighth and final playoff spot Tuesday night. Boston (15-17) currently holds the No. 8 slot, with the Cavaliers (13-18) just 1.5 games back.

A big part of Cleveland's unexpected rise to playoff contender status has been the play of rookie point guard Kyrie Irving.

He comes into tonight's game averaging 18.1 points (tops among rookies), 5.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.

"They're playing great," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Kyrie Irving has put an entire franchise on his back in some ways, and has proven his pick was a pretty good pick."

The No. 1 overall pick in last June's NBA draft was named MVP of the Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend.

Boston knows first-hand how good Irving is.

In the Celtics' 88-87 loss on Jan. 29, Irving split two defenders on a driving lay-up in the game's closing seconds for the Cavs win.

Of course Irving's play will be a factor in tonight's game.

But there will be others to pay attention to as the Celtics try and put a little more distance between themselves and the Cavaliers.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Don't be surprised if the Celtics try to get Ray Allen going early in the game. For one thing, he hasn't had many big games this season so it would probably catch the Cavaliers off guard. Also, he has a favorable matchup in Daniel Gibson. Gibson is smaller and thus provides the potential for Allen to showcase his all-around game, which includes, from time to time, scoring in the post.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Rajon Rondo vs Kyrie Irving: This will be Rondo's first meeting against Irving this season. In the two previous matchups, Rondo did not play because of a wrist injury suffered against Toronto on Jan. 18. Irving is averaging 22 points in the two games against the Celtics, which includes the game-winner in an 88-87 win at the Garden on Jan. 29.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Brandon Bass makes his return after missing the last six games with a left knee injury. Of course his 11.6 points per game will help. But his presence should also provide a boost to other Celtics -- namely Allen and Paul Pierce -- having better shots at the basket, and thus leading to a Celtics team that puts up a lot more points.

"Brandon is now a part of a lot of what we do," Allen told CSNNE.com. "We count on him . . . I think he's a great scorer. But he's under-rated in some of the other things that he can do."

STAT TO TRACK -- Controlling, or at the very least competing for, offensive boards will be huge for the Celtics. In each of the previous two games against Cleveland, the C's were minus-6 on the offensive glass. The struggles that night on the offensive boards mirrored a major problem for Boston all season. Boston is minus-103 this season on the offensive boards, easily the worst offensive rebounding team in the NBA. In fact, no other NBA team has allowed even 80 more offensive rebounds than they were able to grab. And in Cleveland, you're talking about the second-best offensive rebounding team in the NBA, with 13.2 per game. However, the Cavs will be without Anderson Varejao (right wrist fracture) who had 20 points and a career-high 20 rebounds (10 were offensive) in their last meeting on Jan. 31.

BST Podcast: How will Kyrie Irving fit into Celtics' system?

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BST Podcast: How will Kyrie Irving fit into Celtics' system?

A. Sherrod Blakely and Kyle Draper break down how Kyrie Irving will fit in Boston’s system and how much Isaiah Thomas’ contract impacted the Celtics to trade him at the 11-minute, 47-seconds mark.

Here are the rest of the minutes.

1:19 - Michael Holley, Kyle Draper, and Kayce Smith discuss the blockbuster trade that sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Nets 1st round pick for Kyrie Irving and debate if it was the right move to make for the Celtics.

7:08 - Mike Gorman joins by phone to give his opinion on the trade, if the Celtics are in a better position now, and if he has any concerns with the deal.

16:54 - Chris Forsberg joins BST to compare the Celtics and the Cavaliers rosters now that they have completed this blockbuster trade. 

Jackie Bradley Jr. to get MRI after hurting thumb on slide

Jackie Bradley Jr. to get MRI after hurting thumb on slide

CLEVELAND — Jackie Bradley Jr. will head back to Boston on Wednesday morning for an MRI after he hurt his left thumb sliding into home plate in Tuesday’s 9-1 win over the Indians. X-Rays taken after Bradley was removed from the game at Progressive Field were negative.

Bradley was racing home in the seventh inning and went into a feet-first slide angled to the outside of the plate when he hit his hand awkwardly on the ground. Catcher Yan Gomes didn’t get the tag down in time.

“I’m not worried about it, no,” said Bradley, who will return to Cleveland later Wednesday, but is not expected to play right away. “Right now, it feels alright. I guess, as good it can be kind of after the injury. But, I feel like I’ll be alright.”

Bradley, who earlier in the game hit his 14th home run of the season, decided to change his slide at the last minute.

“As I was coming around third, a few steps before home plate I wanted to slide headfirst because I could control it,” Bradley said. “I wasn’t going to slide anywhere near him. I was going to slide headfirst and just have my hand just kind of reach around. But as I was approaching I kind of could see him gather it. He started coming to kind of block off the plate, so I kind of had to redirect my slide. 

“I actually slid feet first, but I also slid to the outside part of the plate, tried to avoid the tag and then slapped my hand at the back of the plate. And as I slapped the back of the plate, his glove kind of got me in the forearm, and my thumb got caught with the ground and kind of bent in all directions I guess.”

Sox manager John Farrell wasn’t pleased with the lane Gomes allowed Bradley.

But it’s hard to see what Gomes did wrong, by the rules, which state “it shall not be considered a violation of [the rule] if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in a legitimate attempt to field the throw.”

Gomes didn’t end up fully blocking the base line and he made what looked like a normal effort to get the ball where it was thrown. 

The initial safe call was challenged by the Indians and was upheld. Farrell was going to ask the umpires to look at a different aspect had the call been overturned

“He’s got to give a lane, didn’t feel like there was a lane being given at all,” Farrell said. “He had to reach back and unfortunately it puts him in a position where the thumb is exposed.”

Can't rush Carson

Carson Smith isn’t going to be rushed back because of Matt Barnes’ trip to the disabled list. Smith may pitch with just one day of rest in between Triple-A Pawtucket rehab outings this week, but he’s not in a position to race back after so much time missed.