Celtics-Cavaliers review: What we saw

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Celtics-Cavaliers review: What we saw

CLEVELAND -- The Boston Celtics' game against Cleveland on Tuesday looked a lot like the first one they had on Sunday. Fortunately for the C's, the outcome was different as the Celtics held off a late Cavaliers rally and escaped with a 93-90 win.

Down the stretch, Boston came through with clutch shots, defensive stops and most important, the victory.

"It wasn't any panic in the huddles," said Jermaine O'Neal, who had 12 points. "Guys knew what we had to do. We had to want to get stops, and obviously, we had to score. Those are the two things that always win games."

While those were both factors in the game's outcome, there were others as well.

We outlined a few prior to the game.

Let's take a look and see how they played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Without question, the biggest concern the C's take away from Sunday's loss was their inability to score down the stretch. After a Brandon Bass jumper with 4:58 to play, Boston didn't make another basket. And its only point afterward was a Bass free throw with 4:25 to play. Look for coach Doc Rivers to bring back his core guys like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett about halfway through the fourth unless the game is in full-blown blow-out mode.

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics didn't light it up in the closing moments of the game, but they consistently got the right shooter, in the right spot, to take and make the right shot.

The C's focused on their bigs leading the way offensively in the fourth, evident by all 17 of the C's points being scored by Pierce (7), Garnett (6) and Brandon Bass. Easily the biggest shot of the night was made by Garnett, whose 13-footer with 1:04 to play put the C's ahead by four points.

"They've always been one of the best offensive executing teams in the league," said Cavs coach Byron Scott. "When you have the type of guys that they have, it's pretty easy to execute offensively."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Kyrie Irving: If you are a defensive stopper, which is what Bradley is pegged to be for the Celtics, you have to up for this challenge, especially when you consider how Irving, a rookie, had his way with Bradley and the C's on Sunday. He finished with a game-high 23 points, including the game-winning basket. Bradley isn't going to make Irving shrink the way he did Orlando's Jameer Nelson. But he needs to be able to make life tougher - a lot tougher - on Irving, who has said that Bradley was a player he looked up to while in high school.
WHAT WE SAW: For three quarters, Bradley was at the very least, holding his own with Irving. But then came the fourth quarter, which brought with it a much more aggressive, more effective, Irving, who almost pulled off another end-of-the-game comeback for Cleveland. He finished with a game-high 21 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter.

"He just knows that that is winning time," said Scott. "His focus is even more heightened than when the game starts. He's just doing a great job in the fourth quarter."

PLAYER TO WATCH: You know Anderson Varejao is going to bring lots of energy and will make multiple effort plays on the boards. But Boston can not allow him to score 18 points, which was a season-high for him.

"You can trade Varejao today and put him on any team in the NBA, and there will be immediate results," said Rivers. "Without a play, without anything; just because of the way he plays. He's a special talent in the way that he attacks the game; tough to deal with."

WHAT WE SAW: You can add Rivers to the growing bandwagon for Varejao to be an All-Star this season. Varejao became the first player with a 2020 game against the C's, finishing with 20 points and 20 rebounds. "Varejao is always an All-Star as far as I'm concerned," Rivers said. "They should keep a spot for a role player, because that's what he does. He plays his role what he'd have? 20 points? I guarantee they didn't run one set for him."

STAT TO TRACK: The Celtics saw the video of how "night and day" their energy level was defensively against Cleveland on Sunday, and how it had been in their previous four games - all wins. While this can be difficult to quantify, points off turnovers certainly gives one a glimpse as to how the C's defensive pressure is or isn't, throwing off the timing and rhythm of an opponent. In the four wins, Boston forced those teams to turn the ball over 17.5 times which led to 19.8 points. In the Cavs loss on Sunday, Boston forced 14 turnovers that generated 17 points.

WHAT WE SAW: For three-plus quarters, Boston's defensive energy was where it needs to be in order for them to be successful. The C's forced 17 Cleveland turnovers which led to 21 points. Boston was especially effective in the second quarter when they forced four turnovers that generated nine points, a big reason why the Celtics took a 51-39 lead into the half. "I thought we played really well," said Rivers. "We had the one stretch, in the beginning of the fourth, where we really let Cleveland back in it."

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

BOSTON -- While it’s debatable whether the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards are rivals, there’s no question there has been a heightened level of animosity towards one another when they play.

When these two met on Jan. 11, the Celtics came away with a 117-108 win.

But the game itself featured plenty of back-and-forth trash talk, finger-pointing, cries of dirty play and NBA fines.

IN FACT . . . Washington plans to bury Boston

“It’ll be a physical game,” said Jae Crowder who was hit with a five-figure fine for his role in a post-game incident involving Washington’s John Wall. “We have to answer the bell; we’ll be ready.”

Crowder knows he and his teammates must balance being the more physical team, with not losing their cool because if tonight’s game is anything like previous ones, there will be trash talk … lots of trash talk.

“They talk a little bit more than other teams,” said Crowder who added that was a factor in the incident him and Wall which cost them $25,000 and $15,000, respectively.

Crowder said a flagrant-foul committed by Washington’s Bradley Beal against Marcus Smart was what really cranked the level of animosity that was already at a high level.

But Beal probably hasn’t fully put behind him an incident last season in which Smart broke his nose and put him in the league’s concussion protocol program on a Smart drive to the basket.

As far as the hard foul that Beal delivered to him earlier this month, Smart said, “you take exception to every hard foul.”

Smart added, “It’s the game of basketball. You play with your emotions and intensity and everything like that. It comes with the game.”

While Crowder understands the Celtics have to play a physical brand of basketball, he’s not looking to do anything that might result in him having to cut another $25,000 check which was the amount of his fine from the Jan. 11 game against the Wizards.

“I’m looking at it as another game we have to win,” Crowder said. “I’m not looking at it as a rivalry or anything like that. I’m not coming in talking; they might.”

For the Wizards, winners in four of their five games since losing to Boston, a major key to their success lies in the play of their backcourt.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the latest high-scoring backcourt tandem that the Celtics have to be worried about.

And making matters worse for Boston, the Celtics will have to try and make due without Avery Bradley who is still dealing with a right Achilles injury.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said the 6-foot-2 Bradley was not going to be with the team in Washington and would most likely be out all this week.

That means Boston will lean heavily on Smart to not only help the offense run relatively smooth, but also provide some much-needed defense to help limit Wall and Beal who collectively rank among the higher-scoring starting backcourts in the NBA.

“We have to slow them down; by any means we have to slow them down,” Thomas said. “We know they go as far as those two take them. It’s going to be a tough game. They have a lot of momentum at home. It’ll be a tough game for us. But we’re ready for the opportunity.”

Wall and Beal are just the latest in a string of high-scoring backcourts that the Celtics have had to contend with recently.

In Saturday’s 127-123 overtime home loss to Portland, C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combined to score 63 points on 20-for-42 shooting from the field.

“This stretch of backcourts is exceptionally difficult,” Stevens said. “They (Wall and Beal) both should be and certainly are in the discussion for the all-star team. It’s a real difficult challenge. Our guys are going to have to be really good on both ends of the floor.”

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.