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Cavaliers Only Visit To Boston A Good Measuring Stick For Celtics

BOSTON (CBS) -- Tuesday night at the TD Garden is much more than a postseason rematch.

When the Cleveland Cavaliers come to Boston for the first time since sweeping the Celtics out of the 2014-15 postseason, there will be a few scores to settle.

It's the first time Kevin Love and Kelly Olynyk will be in the same building since the C's big man ripped Love's arm out of his shoulder. Things cooled down between the two over the summer, but don't think Love won't be throwing a little extra weight around when he's boxing out Olynyk Tuesday night. We probably won't see any body slams or clotheslines on the floor, at least not from those two, but there may be an inadvertent elbow or two.

Kevin Love and Kelly Olynyk both go for a loose ball during Game 4. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Which brings us to Jae Crowder and J.R. Smith, who step into the ring together for the first time since Smith delivered an obvious and vicious swat to Crowder's face the same night Olynyk took out Love. Crowder hurt his knee as he hit the floor, and Smith was ejected and suspended two games for the blow.

While Olynyk apologized to Love, Smith didn't send any flowers Crowder's way over the summer. The C's forward is hoping Smith may send an "I'm sorry" his way this evening, but if not he's ready to play ball.

He should expect to just play ball, and keep an eye out for more of Smith's antics.

But potential wrestling matches aside and most importantly, tonight's game will be a nice "where do they stand?" for the Celtics, a glimpse of how far they've come since last spring's playoff sweep. It will be a good progress report roughly a third of the way into the campaign, as Boston once again takes on one of the top teams in the league.

It was clear the Celtics weren't ready to compete with the best of the best last April, but the lessons learned from the sweep have carried over to the start of this season. The feeling of some unfinished business isn't just aimed at the Cavaliers but at the entire league, and the Celtics have shown they can share the floor with the NBA's top teams. They've pulled out wins against the Hawks, Bulls, Hornets and Thunder (sans Kevin Durant, but still an impressive road win) while putting up tough fights against the Spurs, Mavericks and Warriors.

They've done it with some impressive defensive play, forcing an NBA-high 17.6 turnovers a game while holding opponents to 98.8 points per contest. Now we'll see what that scrappy defense can do against a team led by the best player on the planet in LeBron James. Cleveland comes in winners of two straight after dropping three in a row, and a well-rested team that hasn't hit the floor since a 35-point blowout win over the Orlando Magic last Friday. The Cavs shot 57 percent from the floor in that effort, their best of the season, taking advantage of 20 Orlando turnovers.

James has been his usual self and it will once again be up to Crowder to try and slow him down, though Brad Stevens made it clear on Monday that it will take a full community effort to do so. With Kyrie Irving still out with a knee injury he suffered in the finals, Crowder should have plenty of help in that department.

Only two games separate the Celtics and the top-seeded Cavs in the Eastern Conference at the moment. Forget that the star power usually wins out when the summer rolls around and we're a long ways away from mid-April, and take Tuesday night as another measuring stick game for Boston. They've been up to the challenge most nights so far this season, and a win Tuesday, albeit eight months tardy, would be another solid addition to an impressive early-season resume.

Tune in to Celtics-Cavaliers on 98.5 The Sports Hub -- the flagship station of the Boston Celtics. Pregame coverage with Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwells begins at 7pm!


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