Celtics start the second half looking to step it up vs the Cavs

Boston Celtics (15-17) at Cleveland Cavaliers (13-18)
Tuesday, February 28
7:00 PM ET
Game #33, Away Game #14
TV:  CSNNE,  FSO, LP 751/752
Radio:  WTAM, WEEI
Quicken Loans Arena
Referees:   Jason Phillips,  Nick Buchert,  Leon Wood 

The Celtics enter the second half of the season desperately in need of a win.  They ended the first half on a 5 game skid.  The Cavs ended the Celtics 4 game win streak earlier this season and hopefully will end this streak as well.

The Celtics hopefully will come into this game rested and healthier.  All players except Jermaine O'Neal are with the team in Cleveland.  JO will see a hand/wrist specialist today.    Both Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox will be available for this game.  Bass, in particular, has been missed and should give the team a boost.   The Celtics catch a break in that Varejao, who always gives the Celtics problems, is out for this game with a broken wrist.  Anthony Parker, who has been out since January with a back injury is expected to return to the starting lineup tonight.   Although Pietrus is listed in the game notes as the starting power forward, I wouldn't be surprised if either Wilcox or Bass start to give us a bit more size to our front line. 

In interviews during the break, both Rondo and Pierce suggested that the Celtics need more discipline and more mental toughness.   If the team has either in them, this would be a good time to find and display it. KG for his part called a team meeting and in effect told them if they weren't ready to play hard then not to come back from the break.    The Celtics have a brutal schedule in the second half including an 8 game road trip and a back to back to back set of games and they will need both discipline and mental toughness to get through it. 

This is the 3rd and final meeting between these two teams.  They split the first two games with each winning on the others' court.  The Celtics are 3-7 in their last 10 games while the Cavs have gone 5-5 in their last 10.  The Celtics are 4-9 on the road while the Cavs are 8-9 at home.   Cleveland occupies the 9th spot in the East, just 1 1/2 games behind the Celtics, who are currently the 8th seed.

Probable Starters

Rajon Rondo.......Ray Allen.......Paul Pierce.......Mickael Pietrus...... Kevin Garnett

Boston Bench
Marquis Daniels
E'Twaun Moore
JaJuan Johnson
Greg Siemsma
Sasha Pavlovic
Mickael Pietrus
Avery Bradley
Chris Wilcox
Brandon Bass


Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) out  

Probable Starters

Kyrie Irving.....Anthony Parker.....Omri Casspi....Antawn Jamison.....Semih Erden

Cleveland Bench
Tristan Thompson
Ryan Hollins
Alonzo Gee
Ramon Sessions
Daniel Gibson
Samardo Samuels
Christian Eyenga
Luke Harangody
Mychal Thompson
Manny Harris 

Anderson Varejao (wrist)  out 

Key Matchups
Paul Pierce vs Omri Casspi
During the All Star break, Pierce said that he needs to be more disciplined and more focused and do more to help the team win.  Hopefully that resolve will be carried out in his play starting with this game.  Pierce is right that the Celtics need more from their Captain in order to get back on the winning track.    

Rajon Rondo vs Kyrie Irving
In the last meeting between these two teams, Irving faced Avery Bradley instead of Rondo due to Rondo's wrist injury.  Irving is coming off of his MVP performance in the Rising Stars game.  He also came in last in the Skills Challenge while Rondo came in second.  Both point guards will have something to prove and this should be a great match up to watch.

Honorable Mention
Kevin Garnett vs Semih Erden
 If the starting lineups stay as projected in the game notes, KG will start at center against his former protege, Semih Erden.   Semih has been playing well but somewhat inconsistently for the Cavs since Varejao went out and this could be a match up that favors the Celtics.  Especially since KG read the team the riot act before the break and I expect him to put his game where his words were.  He's rested and healthy and out to make a point. 

Keys to the Game
Mental Toughness - Call it mental toughness or focus, the Celtics need to have it.   The Celtics must keep their heads in the game.  They have to come out strong and play until the final buzzer.  They have to concentrate on making crisp passes instead of sloppy ones that turn the ball over.  They need to be aggressive on both ends of the court and keep their heads in the game.  They can't go through those long scoreless droughts when they turn the ball over again and again and expect to win.

Rebound -  Rebounding is key to getting a win.  The Celtics have been out rebounded in each of their 5 losses in this streak.   When the Celtics put the effort in to crashing the boards and battling for rebounds, that effort also tends to show in other areas of the game as well.  Even though they are near the bottom of the league in rebounding, they have shown that when they make the the effort to hustle for every rebound, they get them and win the battle of the boards, and usually the game as well.  

Defense -  Defense is the key to every game.   There have been times when the Celtics can lock down a team and keep them from getting any easy scores.  There are also times when they allow tip ins and layups and second chance points over and over again.  It goes back to that mental toughness thing.  The Celtics can't lose their defensive mindset.  They must lock in on defense from beginning to end.

Official Report

Jason Phillips
Phillips has officiated 716 regular season games and 19 playoff games since joining the NBA officiating staff 12 seasons ago. He officiated his first two Finals games during the 2010-11 season. In addition, Phillips has six seasons of experience officiating in the CBA, working the 1999 CBA Finals. He also officiated three seasons in the WNBA, working the 1999 WNBA Finals. Phillips spent five years officiating at the high school level in his home state of Texas. The Celtics are 1-1 this season and they are 4-6 over their last 10 games with Phillips as a ref. The loss this season was to Chicago where the Celtics shot 13 free throws to 21 for the Bulls. In the win, Charlotte shot 20 free throws to 8 for the Celtics. It was Phillips and crew that got Tommy to swear on the air last season about the refs falling for all the blank blank flops. Cleveland is 0-1 this season and 5-5 with Phillips over their last 10. His home W/L record this season is 15-8.

Nick Buchert
Buchert is entering his second NBA season having officiated 65 games. He has nine years of collegiate officiating experience. Additionally, he has officiated the 2010
NBA D-League Finals and 2010 NBA D-League All-Star Game. He has only officiated 5 Celtics games in his career with a 4-1 record. He officiated the Thunder game just before the break and now is calling the first game after the break. In the Thunder game, the Celtics shot 34 free throws to 35 for the Thunder. The Cavs are 2-5 in their 7 games officiated by Buchert. His home W/L record this season is 13-10.

Leon Wood
Osie Leon Wood, III has officiated 600+ regular season games and 6 play-off games.
Prior to becoming an NBA referee, Wood was a shooting guard in the NBA. He was chosen 10th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1st round of the 1984 draft. During his career, he played for the 76ers, Bullets, Nets, Spurs, Hawks and Kings. He played in 274 games in his career and won a gold medal as a member of the 1984 US Olympic basketball team. When not officiating, Wood helps train younger officials. You would think that being a former player, Wood would try to be fair but he has been a mediocre ref at best. The Celtics are 0-1 this season and 8-2 over their last 10 games with Wood officiating. In the loss this season, Chicago shot 20 free throws to 13 for the Celtics. The Cavs are 1-0 this season and 7-3 over their last 10 games called by Wood. His home W/L record this season is 14-10.

Effort and Health
KG told the team before the break that if they weren't ready to step up their game after the break they should just stay home.  I expect KG to back up his words with increased effort and hopefully the rest of the team will follow his example.  The Celtics will be the healthiest that they have been in a long time.  Everyone is available except Jermaine O'Neal and that could give the team a boost.