It's been four months since the Celtics last met up with the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers — it was Oct. 27, opening night of the NBA season — and the C's got off on the right foot by dismantling the supporting cast around LeBron James and earning a 95-89 road win at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavs started off 0-2, but they've been hot like wildfire since then, winning 44 of their last 56 as LeBron almost singlehandedly wills them back to Eastern Conference supremacy. The Cavs appear to have a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference, but this is Boston's chance to put a small dent in the Cavs' lead.
When and Where
Thursday, Feb. 25, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
TD Garden, Boston, Mass.
Celtics (36-19, first place in Atlantic Division, third place in Eastern Conference)
Cavaliers (44-14, first place in Central Division, first place in Eastern Conference)
Head to Head
Last season, the home team won all four meetings between Boston and Cleveland, and a split was quite the accomplishment for the C's since the Cavs were practically unbeatable in their building. This season, though, Boston has drawn first blood. When these two teams met on opening night, here's all you need to know: LeBron shot 12-for-22 against the Celtics and finished with 38 points, and his eight teammates combined shot 17-for-48 and dropped 51. King James has been spectacular all year long, but history has shown that he's got to get his teammates involved if he wants to beat the gritty Celtics.
If you had to guess, which Danny did you think was making a major deal at the trading deadline? Danny Ferry, whose Cavs are sitting on a massive, untouchable lead in the Eastern Conference standings, or Danny Ainge, whose Celtics have looked old and rusty? You'd guess Ainge, and you'd be wrong. The Cavaliers have taken a risk by bringing in Antawn Jamison, and it hasn't worked out for them yet — they've lost three of their last four. But once they get the former Wizard acclimated into their starting five, they're going to have a legitimate double-double threat on the floor every night alongside LeBron. The Cavs will be scary down the stretch, no doubt.
Point guard: Rajon Rondo
Shooting guard: Ray Allen
Small forward: Marquis Daniels
Power forward: Kevin Garnett
Center: Kendrick Perkins
Point guard: Mo Williams
Shooting guard: Anthony Parker
Small forward: LeBron James
Power forward: Antawn Jamison
Center: Shaquille O'Neal
The Celtics are 15-3 in games decided by double-digits.
They rank dead last in the NBA in total rebounds with 2,135.
Rajon Rondo has 16 assists in the Celtics' win Tuesday night over the Knicks, matching the season-high he set on Oct. 30 in a win over the Bulls.
Ray Allen has shot 37-of-57 from the floor in his last four games.
Kendrick Perkins has 103 blocks this season. This is the fourth 100-plus block season of his career. He set a career-high last year with 150.
Kevin Garnett is averaging 13.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists in February, all markedly up from his averages last month.
Marquis Daniels is averaging 6.7 points per game, a career-low.
The Cavaliers are 24-8 against Eastern Conference opponents this season.
They are shooting 48.5 percent from the floor, third-best in the NBA behind Utah and Phoenix.
LeBron James leads the NBA in minutes played (2,264), field goals attempted (1,165), field goals made (585) and points scored (1,730).
Daniel Gibson is shooting 47.9 percent from 3-point range, second-best in the NBA. Teammate Anthony Parker is fifth at 45.0 percent.
Antawn Jamison had 18 points and six rebounds in his first Cavaliers start against the Hornets on Tuesday night.
Shaquille O'Neal is averaging career-lows in points (12.1), rebounds (6.8) and blocks (1.2).
Mo Williams is averaging 12.7 points and 3.9 assists per game against the Celtics in his career.
Black and Blue
Nate Robinson made his Celtics debut Tuesday after missing two games over the weekend with flu-like symptoms. He played more than 16 minutes and finished with four points.
Paul Pierce will almost certainly miss Thursday's game with a thumb injury.
Marquis Daniels is questionable after missing Wednesday's practice with the flu.
Leon Powe had microfracture and ACL surgeries last summer and is just now making his return. He was activated Tuesday but has yet to play.
J.J. Hickson is questionable after missing Tuesday's game with the flu.
Sebastian Telfair is out with a torn right adductor tendon.
This Date in Celtics History
In 1984, Celtics legends John Havlicek and Sam Jones are elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Havlicek played 16 seasons with the Celtics and won eight NBA titles; Jones, a longtime teammate of Havlicek's during the 1960s, was a 10-time champion during his 12 years with the franchise.
"Their size in the first game was a factor. Shaq was a player people didn?t think would be a factor, and Shaq has been terrific for them. So we have to figure out different ways to take advantage of their size, just as they will on the other end."
—Doc Rivers, in Thursday's Boston Herald, sizing up the matchup between the Celtics and Cavaliers
The Celtics' defense stifled the Knicks.
Paul Pierce considers some time off.
Kendrick Perkins has a big task ahead of him.
Leon Powe is ready to go.
The Cavs search for a rhythm.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas nears a buyout with the Wizards.
Dirk Nowitzki silenced the Lakers.
The Spurs snapped Kevin Durant's scoring streak.
Even a banged-up Steve Nash was too much for the Sixers.
The big question in this one is simple: Who's guarding LeBron James? You've got to stop the King to stay competitive, and the C's might not have the defensive wherewithal. Paul Pierce is likely out against the Cavs, and Marquis Daniels has had health concerns as well. Someone else will have to step up. The Celtics have won before without being able to contain LeBron, but it's certainly not the easy way. The Celtics had best find a way to keep King James from taking the game over, especially in the fourth quarter if things get close. Otherwise, they could be in for a long night.