Ahead of their final postseason push, the Boston Celtics visit the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday looking to snap a three-game losing streak.
The Celtics (35-34), playing the second leg of a back-to-back, are coming off a 129-121 loss at home Tuesday to Miami. The defeat marked Boston’s second straight against the Heat, who extended their lead for sixth place in the Eastern Conference over the Celtics to three games. Each team has three games left to close the regular season.
The No. 6 spot is significant as it’s the last guaranteed berth in the playoffs, while No. 7 must compete in the play-in tournament to advance. And the Celtics are all but locked into that No. 7 spot but could fall to No. 8.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens emphasized the urgency of Boston’s final stretch in Tuesday’s postgame press conference.
“We’ve got to play well tomorrow,” Stevens said. “We’ve got to play better and see if we can find the best version of ourselves over the next week.”
Boston was without 24.7-point per game scorer Jaylen Brown in all three of its losses during the current streak, but Tuesday’s outing was the first since the organization announced Monday that the wrist injury sustained by the fifth-year guard will keep him out for the remainder of the season.
Jayson Tatum scored 33 points in Tuesday’s loss, extending his scoring average to 32.3 points per game over the past seven.
Scoring was not the issue for Boston in its consecutive losses to Miami, but rather, surrendering field-goal percentage of 57.3 on Sunday and 59.3 on Tuesday.
The Celtics will aim to capitalize against a Cleveland offense that ranks No. 25 in the league in shooting percentage at 45 percent and last in 3-point shooting at 33.8 percent.
Cleveland (21-48) dropped its 11th consecutive game, extending the NBA’s current longest losing streak, with a 111-102 decision against Indiana on Monday. The Cavaliers are averaging 102.2 points per game during the skid, 1.6 points per game fewer than their league-low season-long average of 103.8.
With a bevy of absences — Darius Garland and Cedi Osman both missed Monday’s game with ankle injuries and are day-to-day, and Larry Nance Jr. has missed the past nine games due to a fractured right thumb — Cleveland has had different players have to carry the load.
Rookie Isaac Okoro continued on a recent streak of solid individual play, recording his first career double-double with 22 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. Okoro is averaging 16 points over the past nine games, almost seven more than his season average.
“He has the ability to make people better,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Okoro in Monday’s postgame press conference. “He has the patience and the poise to see the reads and make the right plays.”
Dean Wade also posted a double-double against Indiana with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Collin Sexton scored 25 points.
Sexton comes into Wednesday’s game averaging 24.4 points per game. He managed just 13 in Cleveland’s first matchup with Boston, a 38-point loss on Jan. 24, but led the Cavaliers to a 117-110 defeat of the Celtics on March 17 with 29 points.
–Field Level Media