WALTHAM, Mass. – Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas knows there’s a chance that the Cleveland Cavaliers could rest key players on the second night of a back-to-back when the teams meet on Wednesday at TD Garden. Thomas doesn’t have a preference on whom the Cavaliers trot out in a game that could go a long way toward deciding the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“I mean, at this point, I don’t care who plays,” said Thomas. “If they don’t play, that’ll be good. If they do, we’ll be there at 8 o’clock to play them. I’m fine with either way they go. You can’t control that decision but, if they do play, it would definitely be a really good game and, if they don’t, we’ve just got to figure out how to get a win anyway.”
The Cavaliers sit a half-game back of the Celtics prior to playing the visiting Orlando Magic on Tuesday. LeBron James played a regular-season career-high 52 minutes in a double-overtime win Sunday over the Indiana Pacers. What’s more, the Cavaliers are 1-9 on the road on the second night of back-to-backs this season.
Prior to Tuesday night’s game, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said that his plan, barring any unforeseen scenario, will be to use all of his players against Boston.
The Celtics have been off since a breezy matinee win Sunday in New York and returned to practice Tuesday after taking Monday off. The team’s practice facility was overflowing with reporters and TV cameras in advance of the possible Celtics-Cavs showdown but players did their best to downplay the hype building around the game.
“It’s just another game,” said Thomas. “I think we’ve got to treat it like that. I mean being No. 1 in the standings, you don’t feel different. I don’t at least. I’m treating it like another game.”
Thomas did note that winning the East goes through Cleveland while adding, “They’re the defending champions. It definitely goes through them and the whole world knows that. It should be a really good game and everybody’s ready for it.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens doesn’t allow his young team to use the second night of a back-to-back as an excuse for its struggles and didn’t see the additional rest before this game as an advantage.
“I don’t really get into when you’re playing people,” said Stevens. “I’ve seen it go any number of ways. I’ve seen teams be really fresh and get pounded, teams be really fresh and win, teams on the second night of a back-to-back look like the best game they’ve played all season. So I don’t really put a lot of stock into that. It’s part of it. And through 82 games you see it all. So it’s not part of our discussion. Our discussion is playing well.”
Celtics players did expect a potential playoff atmosphere for the game and they understand the value of generating a win considering the tight race with Cleveland for the top spot in the East.
Boston fell victim to a four-way tie-breaker that forced it to open the first round of the playoffs on the road last season and lost in six games to the Atlanta Hawks.
“This game is big for us,” said guard Avery Bradley. “We understand that and we know that it can be a good game for us going into the playoffs. It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere. We’re playing against a team that’s obviously going to be a contender. It’s our job to go out there and make sure we’re setting our mark now, showing them how we are going to play, so if we do meet up in the playoffs, they know what to expect.”
When it was noted how the Celtics are still floating a bit below the radar despite holding the top spot in the East, Bradley said the Celtics have rallied around that us-against-the-world mentality all season.
“Guys on this team, Isaiah, myself, Jae [Crowder], we all feel like underdogs anyway,” said Bradley. “We feel like we’ve always been overlooked. No one gives us credit and as a team, that’s what we expected going into this year. We knew that a lot of people would count us out, a lot of people would say we would be on the bottom of the pack. [They said], yeah, we added Al [Horford], but we might not get over the hump.
“We just stuck together and used that as motivation. Every single game this year, we got better and better. Every guy that got an opportunity got better and now we’re almost there. We’re playing the right way, we just have to continue to value every single possession. We’re still learning and we’re still kind of a young team, but with the leadership we have, I feel like we’re making great strides to be where we want to be.”