1. How can Cleveland defend Jeff Green?
Chris Manning, RDE co-editor: This is a tough question. Alonzo Gee isn’t athletic enough, Earl Clark is too slow and C.J. Miles is a horrid defender. Thus, I offer up this solution: Tristan Thompson. When/if Green logs minutes at the four spot, put Thompson on him and see where it goes. He’s the more athletic than any of the players mentioned and he’s going to put effort into it. Plus, Thompson & Anderson Varejao/Andrew Bynum should be able to own the boards when Green is playing forward alongside should be able to He may get schooled on the wing, but since Green is one of the few legitimate Celtics offensive threats, you can cheat towards him with another defender. It’s not perfect, but it could be worse.
Trevor Magnotti, Staff Writer: A great question! Here’s yet another athletic, large swingman type that the Cavs will struggle to guard. Earl Clark should probably get the nod here, because Green’s just too powerful for Gee to deal with, and while the Cavs could throw Tristan Thompson on him, and likely will for stretches, the rebounding abilities of Jared Sullinger or Kris Humphries might steer the Cavs away from Thompson on Green. Therefore, I think Clark gets a slight minutes bump in this game, and will be charged with just not letting Green kill the Cavs in transition, and keeping him out of the paint. Hopefully, he can do that.
Marlowe Alter, Staff Writer: Green is a strong, versatile player with the ability to shoot from the perimeter, drive and post up smaller defenders. Celtics coach Brad Stevens has had Green playing the three (small forward) almost exclusively to take advantage of his size, while hiding his rebounding deficiencies. Seven of Green’s nine made field goals against Memphis on Wednesday came in the paint and Stevens ran a few nice plays for Green to free him up. Earl Clark has played well of late and has earned Mike Brown’s trust so I’d expect to see him on Green after the opening minutes. Clark has the size to match Green, who at 6’9” is one of the biggest SFs in the league. Clark will have to fight his way through screens and stick with Green on the perimeter but I think he can do a decent job. However, when the Cavs predictably go small with a backcourt of Jack-Irving-Waiters, Stevens will likely stay with his usual lineup because Green can guard the smaller Waiters. On the other end, Stevens will surely take advantage of the size mismatch on offense, forcing Brown to make a counter-move. Anthony Bennett actually has the size, strength and foot speed to matchup with Green physically, but he’s out of shape and slumping dreadfully.
2. After Kyrie Irving, who’s the next best player between these two teams?
CM: This is a toss up for me between Jeff Green and Andrew Bynum. Green can absolutely light it up, but hasn’t fully been himself so far this season. as he has scored under 10 points twice. Bynum, on the other hand, is just starting to get into a groove, but is still struggling to find his footing on offense. I’ll give the edge to Bynum and here’s why: Even at 70 percent (or maybe less?) than his former self, he can have a huge impact on the game, especially on defense with his ability to clog up the paint for opposing teams. Green, despite being a better scorer, is at best, capable of being the third best player on a good team and I still think Bynum could possibly be the second best player on a good team. Few teams can fully take him out of a game (none have yet) and the Celtics aren’t one of them. Advantage Bynum.
TM: The guy we just talked about is the next best player. Green does a little bit of everything for the Celtics. He handles the ball pretty well. He can create his own shots. He’s a monster in transition, and he can hit threes reasonably well, shooting 37.7 percent this season. He’s a versatile defender, who’s probably going to hound the Cavs small forwards and may even take a round or two guarding Andrew Bynum. I’m very nervous about Green just being a matchup nightmare for Cleveland, and see this as one of those games where he has like 27 points because he gets hot from three and makes Clark a non-factor on offense (Well, more so than he already is).
MA: This is a crapshoot and you could probably argue four or five different players. But right now, Jared Sullinger is playing the best basketball of anyone coming into this game. In the five games since being inserted into the starting lineup for an ailing Kelly Olynyk, ‘Sully’ is averaging a double-double of 15 points and 10.2 rebounds on 47 percent shooting. He’s even hit four threes, including two during a 17-point fourth quarter on Wednesday. Sullinger put up 19 and 17 in his first start against San Antonio and hasn’t looked back. He’s been a beast on the glass because of his wide-body and is playing with confidence and aggression. Sullinger is creative on offense, employing a variety of drop-steps, hooks, fall away jumpers, floaters and pure brute strength to get the job done around the rim because he isn’t a high-flyer. For the season, he’s putting up 12.9 points, 7.2 boards and surprisingly sports the highest PER (19.5) of anyone between the two teams. Right now, I’m taking the former Buckeye.
3. The Celtics hypothetically will be able to defend Kyrie Irving with Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley in the backcourt. How should the Cavaliers go about getting their point guard open looks?
CM: Again, I’m going to suggest using Hammer sets to get Irving open – especially when he is on the floor with Jarrett Jack. I’m expecting Bradley to be hounding him from the get-go, and considering he’s the best defender on either roster, it’s imperative for the Cavaliers to use screens to get Bradley off Irving. By placing him off the ball, and then using staggered screens and/or hammer sets to get Irving the ball, the Cavaliers star will be in position to either create in space or take an open three. Regular pick & rolls – just not with Andrew Bynum – are another viable option. Isolation just isn’t going to get it done if it’s the basis for everything the Cavaliers will do against Boston.
TM: I think this is a big game for Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack to have good nights. Avery Bradley is an elite defender, and will be guarding Kyrie for most of the game, I’d imagine. That leaves Jack and Waiters to match up with Steez. Crawford is actually being very efficient this season, which is very weird to see from one of the league’s premier chuckers. However, he’s still not a great on-ball defender, and with Waiters and Jack, he’s going to get trapped in ISOs fairly often. I see this working out reasonably well for the Cavs, especially Waiters. If Dion can attack Crawford off the dribble, he should have success, and him getting into the lane will open up guys like Kyrie and Gee on the perimeter for buckets. It’s almost like that’s how offense should work! I like the idea of Kyrie playing a big amount of minutes and really deferring to these two in this game, mostly because they should have some success operating with Jack and Waiters off the dribble.
MA: Bradley is unquestionably one of the best defensive guards in the league. Named to the NBA’s All-Defensive second team last year, he routinely applies full court pressure, something rarely seen in the NBA, and will be hounding Irving all night long. Last season, opposing players shot just 30.8 percent against Bradley and according to Synergy Sports, he allowed only .697 points per play defensively, the best mark in the league. Mike Brown has been criticized for his lack of offensive acumen this season and his inability to free Irving or run any particular successful plays has been under the microscope as a frustrated fan base looks for a scapegoat. Obviously isolation plays for Irving against Bradley will be difficult, so I’d like to see Irving running off screens, having him catch the ball on the move along with some basic pick-and-rolls. That’s at least a start. Maybe even some misdirection plays where Irving can get an open three off a back-screen away from the ball. The Celtics lack a rim protector so I’d hope to see an ultra-aggressive Irving and Dion Waiters tonight.
4. Long term, whom would you rather have leading your team: Mike Brown or Brad Stevens?
CM: I’ll take Brad Stevens. I like Mike Brown as a coach – I really do – but I don’t think he can be special like I think Stevens will be. The former Butler coach is young (37) but he’s got smarts far beyond his years. You can see how much he cares, how basketball smart he is and he’s getting more out a very bad Celtics roster than most expected. I can’t even imagine how good he’ll be when he has a legitimate NBA roster to coach. Advantage, Stevens. I truly believe he has the potential to be something special on the bench.
TM: Stevens. While his Butler teams were so hard to watch that I actively rooted against them (Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack might be two of my Top 10 most hated college basketball players ever), he’s a creative coach who has adjusted to the Celtics’ pieces and is playing a little more up-tempo this season than I expected. I like creativity. Creativity is one of the hallmarks of a good coach. Mike Brown might be one of the least creative coaches in the league. Therefore, give me Stevens.
MA: Critics are always wary of a college coach jumping to the pros in the NFL and NBA, especially ones with no previous professional experience. But so far, the 37-year old Stevens hasn’t looked overmatched. He’s young, extremely bright and brings a winning pedigree along with new ideas and philosophies. We already know Mike Brown is a defensive coach with seemingly little offensive proficiency. With the game continuing to evolve, I’ll take my chances with Stevens.