Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 2/28/12

Kyrie Irving has already knocked off the Celtics once this season

The Cleveland Cavaliers (13-18, 9th in the East) get back to business Tuesday night when they welcome the Boston Celtics (15-17, 8th in the East) into the Q. It was a pretty good All Star break for Cleveland. Sure, Kyrie Irving didn’t fare so well in the Skills Competition, but Irving and fellow rookie Tristan Thompson both left their marks in the Rising Stars Game.

For the rest of the Cavaliers it was a period of rest, relaxation, and rooting on the young Cavaliers in the Rising Stars Game. Now that the batteries have been charged and some wounds have healed, the Cavaliers can get back to chasing that playoff berth.

The Celtics are the team standing in their way, both tonight (as the opponent) and in the long run (as the 8th seed). Perhaps no team was happier for the break than the Celtics, who carried a 5 game losing streak into the break and had lost 7 of their last 8 overall.

For the Celtics, the problem is definitely not defense. Even in this 8 game stretch where they are 1-7, the Celtics still are only giving up an average of 94.5 points per game and have only given up 100+ points once. In fact, the Celtics have only given up 100+ points three times all season, in the first 2 games and their last game.

The Celtics problem has been scoring. The “big 3” of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen have all seen their scoring and FG% drop this season. Rajon Rondo has tried to pick up the slack, increasing his scoring by 4 pts per game and increasing his FG% by 10%. But it clearly hasn’t been enough. The team is 26th in points per game, 25th in offensive efficiency, 29th in offensive TOV%, and dead last in ORB%.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were not playing great basketball by any means. One point wins over Sacramento and Detroit followed by an embarrassing effort against the Hornets saw the Cavaliers go into the break struggling to find their stride and pace. However, they do get one step closer to full health as Anthony Parker finally returns from his back injury. Parker will join Kyrie Irving, Omri Casspi, Antawn Jamison, and Semih Erden in the starting lineup.

I know, most people will say ‘so what?’ about Parker returning. There’s no doubt AP was struggling with his shot this season (welcome to the club), but I felt AP was playing some of the best defense we’ve ever seen from him in Cleveland. The numbers seem to testify to that fact. Last season opposing SGs had a PER of 16.8 against Parker and this year they have a PER of 13.8 against him. Last year opposing teams averaged 1.11 points per possession when Parker was on the floor and that number is 1.08 points per possession this season. Not mind blowing drops by any mean, but enough to show that Parker was indeed playing better defense this year.

The Cavaliers rank 27th in opponents’ 1st quarter points per game, giving up 25.8 points per game in the 1st quarter. Hopefully having Parker back and the rest of the Cavaliers having a bit of a break will help them get off to a better start defensively, especially against this Boston offense.

In the win against Boston earlier this season, the Cavaliers controlled the offensive glass and forced the Celtics into 16 turnovers. Not having Anderson Varejao will hurt, but the Cavaliers simply must control the glass again. It’s the one area the Cavaliers have a true advantage over the Celtics.

Rajon Rondo missed that game with an injury. He will be playing tonight, back from a suspension for throwing the ball at an official. The Irving-Rondo matchup is really going to set the tone in this one. Whichever PG gets the upper hand will probably see his team in good shape to win.

The Celtics may be old, they may be playing pretty poorly as of late, but this is still the Boston Celtics. It’s still the original “Big 3”. The Cavaliers should have confidence knowing how tough they played Boston both previous occasions, but a win over Boston isn’t happening unless the Cavaliers give a more focused effort than they’ve shown in their last several games. This game officially kicks off the Cavaliers’ playoff chase and how they fare in this game could very well set the tone for the rest of the season.

_____

Image Source: Steve Babineau/NBAE/GettyImages

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