These Celtics have a different look from the ones steamrolled by the Cavs

A. Sherrod Blakely
NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON -- One of the benefits of having so many new faces on the Celtics roster this season, is that they don't have stinging memories of losing to the Cavaliers over and over and over again. 
 
For most of them, their only experience with the Cavs came on October 17 when, after losing Gordon Hayward to a gruesome dislocated left ankle injury, they battled back from an 18-point deficit in the third quarter and took the lead, only to see the Cavs to rally in the final minutes for a 102-99 win. 
 
It was a tough, emotional roller-coaster loss, but it set the tone for a team whose identity has been deeply rooted in its perseverance and will to compete until the final horn sounds, regardless of how insurmountable a deficit appears.
 
What has happened in the past, in their minds at least, has little to no bearing on what's about to happen now. 
 
And in their minds, Boston losing nine of the last regular-season games, or eight of the last nine playoff matchups, against Cleveland has no bearing on what we'll witness tonight.
 
These are not the Celtics of recent past.









"We have a different group," said Al Horford. "The approach has to be what it has been all year, just continue to get better game to game. And [tonight] we have an opportunity: To compete against a good team and just get better. We feel like we're prepared, we're excited. It's gonna be a lot of fun."
 
Here are five under-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as Boston begins the 2018 calendar year against Cleveland, the same team the Celtics opened this season against in October.
 

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Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving embraces former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate LeBron James before the season-opener.
Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving embraces former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate LeBron James before the season-opener.

IN THE CLUTCH
 
We have seen time and time again both Kyrie Irving and LeBron James score key baskets for their respective teams in the closing minutes of tight games. But as it turns out, they get points in down-to-the-wire games better than anyone else in the league. James leads all players in the league with 110 points in the clutch (games that are within five points within the last five minutes of play) while Irving is right behind him with 99 points.

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BACKUP POWER 

The Cleveland bench comes into tonight's game averaging 40.5 points per game, which ranks fifth in the NBA. It's a second unit that features three players -- Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver -- who are each averaging 10 or more points per game. Boston counters with a second unit that has been a work in progress but trending in the right direction lately. For the season it ranks 23rd in the NBA in points with 30.9 per game. But according to Hoopsstats.com, the Celtics are 11th in the last five games, averaging 37.2 points per game off the bench. (Cleveland is ninth in that span, with a 39.6 average.)

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KORVER ON THE RISE
 
Kyle Korver has been one of the NBA's best 3-point shooters for more than a decade, so it comes as no surprise that he ranks among the league's all-time leaders in made 3's. Korver comes into tonight's game with 2,137 made three-pointers, needing seven more to surpass Celtics great Paul Pierce for fourth on the league's all-time list. The NBA's all-time 3-point leader is another former Celtic, Ray Allen, who finished his career having made 2,973.

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CATCH AND SHOOT
 
Two players who have benefited from LeBron James having the ball in his hands even more now with Kyrie Irving traded to Boston, has been Kyle Korver and Kevin Love, particularly when it comes to catch-and-shoot opportunities to score. In fact, Korver and Love have 264 and 262 points, respectively, on catch-and-shoot plays this season which rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in the NBA.

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Boston Celtics' Marcus Morris tries to block a shot against the Brooklyn Nets.
Boston Celtics' Marcus Morris tries to block a shot against the Brooklyn Nets.


 
MARCUS MORRIS
 
On the surface, his availability tonight may not seem like that big a deal. But for the Celtics it really does matter. If he does play, it'll be the third straight game he has been on the floor for Boston. Morris, who has been dealing with a sore left knee all season, has not strung together three consecutive games played since a four-game stint in late-November, early December. He is a versatile defender with instant-offense potential, evident by the 15 points on a 5-for-7 shooting display he put on in Boston's New Year's Eve win over Brooklyn. But the Celtics have not seen enough of him which has been one of the more unexpected developments this season. Morris has missed more games this season (21) than he had in his five previous seasons combined (11).

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