As far as regular season games go, tonight’s meeting between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers holds more weight than usual.
Both teams are tied atop the Eastern Conference with a 50-27 record and with four games left after this one, it’s obvious this encounter could potentially determine the top seed.
Cleveland enter with the season series in their favour, having won two of the previous three clashes. If they can assert their will at TD Garden and come away with another win, they’ll have the luxury of the tiebreaker if both squads finish with the same record. Boston, meanwhile, can even the series and force conference record to come into play if neither team finishes ahead of the other.
But aside from the tangible, there is reason for both teams to play well and come out on top.
It’s not a bold statement to say the Celtics need this one more. A victory now may not mean anything come May, but Boston, who are never short on self-confidence, would at least prove to themselves they can hang with their biggest nemesis in a playoff series. Punching the bully in the mouth could be beneficial if these teams see each other again in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That’s not to say Cleveland couldn’t use a win. LeBron James may not believe so, as he said leading up to the game: “I’m not one to get caught up in regular season big games. I’ve been to six straight Finals; I’m the last person to ask.” But as much reason as James has to focus on the bigger picture, the Cavaliers are in a fragile position. They suffered double-digit losses last month and their defence didn’t just look leaky, it looked completely broken.
If Cleveland are planning to flip the switch, they might as well make sure the light still works in Boston.