“They’ve had everybody’s number in the East for a couple of years now.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens knows Wednesday’s game against the Cavaliers is going to be a “really, really tough task.” At 30-10, Boston holds the best record in the East but hasn’t had much luck against Cleveland in recent years. Since the 2014-2015 season, the Cavaliers hold the definitive head-to-head advantage, 16-5, in both regular-season and playoff games.
But after swapping a pair of superstars during the offseason, the revamped teams have generated a bit more excitement surrounding their matchup. The two Eastern Conference rivals will be going head to head for the first time since the NBA tip-off game — a night was marred by Gordon Hayward’s gruesome left ankle injury.
“Mentally, that was a hard game,” Al Horford said at practice Tuesday. “That was a hard game. For me, personally, I can say.”
Although the Celtics dropped their dramatic season opener against the Cavaliers, 102-99, they managed to overcome a 54-38 halftime deficit and even had a chance to tie the game with the clock expiring in the fourth quarter. After losing to Milwaukee Bucks the following night, Boston strung together a thrilling 16-game win streak — proving to the league, and themselves, that the young team is a force to be reckoned with.
Despite the group’s early success, the turn of the New Year has Jaylen Brown approaching the second half of the season as a clean slate. The forward shared at practice that he’s thinking of the team as turning over a new leaf and starting out at 0-0 again.
“It’s our first game of 2018,” he said. “I’m excited, just like we started off the year.
Here’s what else the team had to say ahead of their mid-season rematch:
On whether he’s disappointed he won’t get an opportunity to face off against Isaiah Thomas: “No, not really. I just want him to be healthy. I talk to Isaiah all the time. Isaiah is like family to me. He was one of the people that reached out to me when my friend passed. Talking to Isaiah beyond basketball, he’s going to be fine, so when he gets healthy, I’m sure he’s going to do everything he does.”
On playing against LeBron James and the Cavaliers: “LeBron’s a great player, probably the best in the NBA. But you have to come out and try and make it tough for him. I think that’s our job as NBA players, down the line, looking towards the playoffs, not looking forward to anything, but this team is the team to beat, so teams like this are good indicators of how ready we are. I think if we come out and play aggressive, I think we’ll be fine.”
Asked about his view of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jaylen Brown responds: “They’re an NBA team in the Eastern Conference.”
Love it. pic.twitter.com/Ama4PA5AH1
— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) January 2, 2018
On whether Cleveland is used as a measuring stick for success: “When I say indicator, I don’t mean this game determines whether or not we’re going to be… I don’t think that way. Just preparation-wise, we know it’s going to be a playoff atmosphere and that’s what we want to bring it to.
“So it’s just a good indicator of what could be to come in the future. We want to definitely be able to show that we can compete, match up with this team, and continue to devise schemes to outplay, out-coach, and out-operate the Cleveland Cavaliers. I think we can do it. In games like this, we just got to learn from it, whether we win or lose, we just got to learn from it and take it in stride.”
On this season’s Cavaliers: “They’re a good team, and it’s going to be a fun game tomorrow. Two teams really getting after it, two of the better teams in the league, so it’s going to be fun.”
On achieving regular-season and postseason success: “Our approach has got to be what it’s been all year, just continuing to get better, getting in the game. Tomorrow, we have an opportunity to compete against a good team and just get better. We feel like we’re prepared, we’re excited, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
On whether Cleveland is used as a measuring stick for success: “I think so. I think that’s probably fair to say. They’re the ones that have won the East all these years in a row. I think that we know what we have. It’ll be a good game for us to come out and play the right way, and grow as a team. I’m just excited about the challenge.”
On whether he looks at Cleveland’s results on the web: “All the teams. I usually look at all the teams. Just keeping up with the league, seeing who’s playing well — not necessarily the players, but more the team in general … I have friends on all these different teams, so I’m always looking around.”
On preparing for the game against Cleveland: “Just looking forward to the challenge. It’s another great test for us.”
On Isaiah Thomas’s imprint on the city: “That guy put on some performances, epic performances for the city of Boston. What he gave, on a consistent basis, you were just wondering how that tough-nosed motherf—– was getting it done every single night — demanding it from his teammates and playing with edge that really cemented himself as a premier playing in this league.”
On what he sees from Cleveland: “Obviously, they had a tough West Coast road trip, but everybody has those. Those are hard places to win. Obviously, the Sacramento game [loss] was sandwiched by the Golden State [loss] and the Utah game [loss]. But they’ve been great.
“Ever since that start when they won all those games in a row, they’ve kind of figured out a rotation that’s good for them. Their second unit is outstanding. They’ve got a guy that’s probably leading the charge for MVP in the league in LeBron, who’s been doing it now for 15 years. They’re the team to beat. Everybody knows that. We can all speculate all the way through the season all we want to, but they have been the class of the East.”
On whether he thinks the second unit in Cleveland could be better than it was last year: “Well, they haven’t had Isaiah yet. And we all know how special he is, so it’s a heck of a team over there.”
Brad Stevens on Isaiah Thomas: "All of us that spent everyday with him, I can't say enough positive, glowing things about Isaiah. He's a special guy and it's great to see him back out on the court tonight. Certainly he's as tough as they come." pic.twitter.com/aksQEQuTSY
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) January 2, 2018