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Short-handed Celtics host surging Cavaliers

Oct 23, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45) reacts as time expires during overtime against the Washington Wizards at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics return home from a three-game road swing on Friday to host a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that is riding a three-game winning streak.

After opening the 2022-23 campaign with three consecutive wins of its own, Boston dropped a 120-102 decision to Chicago on Monday to cap the early-season road trip. The reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics dispatched Miami and Orlando on back-to-back nights to open the stretch, 111-104 and 126-120.

Friday marks Boston’s first home game since a 126-117 defeat of Philadelphia on Oct. 18.

Although a small sample size of just four games, this season’s Celtics defense is well behind the league-best yield the 2021-22 squad rode to the NBA Finals. Boston held opponents to 104.5 points per game in 2021-22 and NBA-lows of 33.9 percent shooting from 3-point range and 43.3 percent shooting from the floor overall.

Thus far into 2022-23, Celtics’ opponents are scoring 115.2 points per game on 40.0 percent shooting from beyond the 3-point arc and 47.7 shooting from the field overall.

Some of Boston’s initial defensive woes can be attributed to adjustments with personnel changes.

“Boston definitely plays a completely different scheme than the rest of the league,” Malcolm Brodgon said at Wednesday’s practice media availability. Brogdon was acquired in an offseason trade from Indiana. “Because of the way the team is constructed, everybody can guard, everybody can guard multiple positions 1-through-5, so we’re switching a lot, on and off the ball. So for me, it’s definitely an adjustment.”

The Celtics face another adjustment against Cleveland with Grant Williams serving a suspension for making contact with an official in Monday’s loss. Boston was already without Robert Williams III in the frontcourt after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

That leaves the Celtics thin up front against the Cavaliers duo of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, and creates potential mismatches on switches against Cleveland’s explosive-scoring newcomer, Donovan Mitchell.

A three-time All-Star in Utah, Mitchell — acquired in an offseason trade package that included Collin Sexton — scored at least 31 points in his first three contests with the Cavaliers.

On a shaky 5-of-19 shooting night from the field Wednesday against Orlando, Mitchell conceded the scoring lead to the big men Mobley and Allen. Mobley went for 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting, while Allen chipped in 18 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.

Allen and Mobley ignited a decisive second half on both ends of the floor, which included Cleveland holding the Magic to 42 points after intermission.

“(Mobley is) not the most vocal guy,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff told reporters following the 103-92 win. “But guys follow his actions. That’s what we’ve become accustomed to. He received the message clearly. That’s what we needed from him, and there was no answer for him when he decided to go get it done.”

Mobley said to media after the game that Bickerstaff “lit (the team) up” at halftime for uninspired play against the winless Magic. The defensively stingy second half was more in line with Cleveland’s play through the opening stretch of the season and continued a run of three straight games holding opponents to 103 points or fewer in regulation.

The Cavaliers held Chicago below the century mark in a 128-96 rout last Saturday and dominated overtime with just four points allowed to Washington in a 117-107 win on Sunday.

–Field Level Media