The Celtics closed out the first half of their season last night with a convincing 102-88 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavs were playing the second night of a back-to-back and it looked like it could have been their third or fourth. They looked old, slow, lethargic and unathletic. Meanwhile, the Celtics were coming in with more rest than their opponents for what felt like the first time in a month. Their quickness and explosiveness was evident from the games opening minutes.
The team now leads the Eastern Conference wit a 31-10 record and is on pace for 62 wins this season. Brad Stevens has to the front-runner for NBA Coach of the Year right now.
1) I loved that Kyrie changed his game from a heavy usage-rate scorer to an old school pass first distributor last night. Instead of dribbling through the Cavs‘ traps to open up difficult shots as he typically does, Irving dished the ball to open teammates while also grabbing rebounds. 11 pts, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in just 28 minutes is not your normal, Kyrie Irving box score line but his decision making was a vital part of last night’s win.
It was also nice to see Irving get some rest with just 28 minutes logged last night. More blowout wins would go a long way in keeping his legs fresh in the second half of the season.
The bench shooting was fantastic
Terry Rozier kept up his hot shooting of late with a 20 point night. Rozier has been in double-figures in scoring for the fifth straight game. During that five-game stretch the point guard has shot 29-48 from the floor for 60 FG%. resulting in a 15.6 PPG average. Those are 6th man of the year type numbers when combined with his defensive contributions.
Marcus Smart continued along with his incremental field goal % improvements. From beyond the arc, he shot 28.8% in November, 31% in December and added a 50% night last night by going 3-of-6 to kick off the month of January.
As a whole, the bench shot 18-39 for 50 FG%.
The Celtics need Marcus Morris to defend Lebron
3) The Celtics used Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye and Marcus Morris when trying to defend Lebron James last night.
While Brown struggled a bit, Morris’ physicality was key in holding James to 1-6 shooting in the 3rd quarter. This was one of the main reasons he was acquired by Danny Ainge.
By some measures, Morris was the NBA’s best defender of LeBron James during the 2015-16 regular season. According to ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, James averaged just 20.5 points per 100 possessions when defended by Morris — his lowest average against any defender in the league that season.