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SPORTS

The Celtics and Cavaliers Last Met in Playoffs in 2018. This Time Boston is the Team to Beat

BOSTON  — One of the things Celtics forward Jaylen Brown remembers about his time inside the NBA’s Florida bubble in 2020 during the pandemic was his random sightings of Donovan Mitchell.

Mitchell, then with the Utah Jazz, seemed to pop up in the common spaces of the bubble at the same time as Brown. It led to humorous fodder on social media between the pair and helped form a friendship between the young stars that continues today.

But none of that is on Brown’s mind this week as the East’s top-seeded Celtics prepare to open their second-round series with Mitchell’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Ain’t no friends in the playoffs,” Brown said. “You’ve just got to get ready to play. That’s all I have to say on that.”

Mitchell, who also calls Boston All-Star Jayson Tatum a friend, said he stopped talking to them when the bracket was finalized.

“It’s all competition and I expect nothing but the best from them and vice versa,” he said. “And we got to go out there and take care of business in a hostile environment. … It’s going to be fun. And I’m excited.”

After dispatching the Miami Heat in five games in the first round, Boston will open Game 1 of its series with Cleveland on Tuesday night as heavy favorites, according to BetMGM.

The Celtics will be getting a Cavaliers team playing on just a day’s rest following a Game 7 win over Orlando in which they rallied from an 18-point deficit to advance.

That game saw Mitchell score 39 points, boosting his scoring average to 28.7 points this postseason. It includes a 50-point performance in Game 6 against the Magic. After not seeing Miami’s Jimmy Butler in the opening round, Mitchell will be the first dynamic scorer Boston has faced this postseason.

Cleveland’s resiliency came on the heels of a regular season that saw the Cavs have a 23-5 stretch before the All-Star break before finishing the season 12-17. It featured a swath of injuries, including a nagging left knee issue for Mitchell. Starting center and defensive anchor Jarrett Allen also missed the final three games of the Magic series with a painful rib injury.

Before getting hurt, Allen had been arguably Cleveland’s steadiest and most durable player since November. He missed five games to open the year before playing in 77 straight while averaging a career-high 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

Allen is questionable for Game 1, with reserve big man Dean Wade ruled out with a sprained right knee.

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff believes he saw his team’s true identity during their Game 7 win over Orlando.

“This group in particular has been through so much this year, a group who’s been left for dead multiple times by a lot of people this year,” he said. “For them to come together in this moment and figure it out, it’s more about the group than me. We’re most proud of that, but we’re not done.”

For the Celtics, 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis is also out for the series opener as he continues to rehab from the strained right calf that caused him to miss the finale of the Heat series.

While Allen seems likely to return at some point in this series, Porzingis could be out most, if not all, of this round.

Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said his team is ready to adjust as needed, just like it did to close out Miami.

“It really doesn’t matter what situation we’re in, what matters is making sure we’re ready to play,” Mazzulla said.

2018 MEMORIES

This will be the first meeting between the teams since Cleveland outlasted Boston in the 2018 Eastern Conference finals to secure their fourth straight Finals. The Cavs won Game 7 of that series at the Garden, led by LeBron James’ 35 points.

This will be the ninth time the teams have met in the playoffs and fourth since 2015.

The 2018 meeting was Brown’s second career playoff run and the first for Tatum.

Cleveland was the hunted team in the East then. Now the table’s been turned.

“That was a long time ago. 2018? Sheesh,” Brown said. “I feel like I’ve come a long way. Obviously, that was a great experience and journey being able to play in the playoffs. At that time they had LeBron. It still stings a little bit that we lost in the end in Game 7. I’ll make sure this series is a little different.”

ROAD REPAIRS

Cleveland hasn’t traveled well in the playoffs the past two years, losing all five road games by an average 19.4 points – and Boston won’t be rolling out the welcome mat.

The Cavs were clobbered in Game 1 at Orlando, losing by 38 points, the most lopsided loss in team playoff history. They got beat by 23 in Game 2 before keeping it relatively close and losing Game 3 by just 7.

The team’s road issues extend to the regular season as Cleveland dropped seven of its last eight in the regular season away from home.

The Cavs lost their two games in Boston — in a three-night span — in December.

It turned out to be a painful short stay as Darius Garland suffered a broken jaw in the Dec. 14 game when he bumped into Porzingis on a drive to the basket.

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