Following a loss to Cleveland during the opening week of the season, Boston center Shaquille O'Neal admitted that the Celtics overlooked a Cavaliers team playing its first game without LeBron James.
The Celtics likely won't make that mistake again, especially since Cleveland has found someone new to take big shots and make big plays with the game on the line.
Boston looks to avenge that early defeat and win its fourth in a row Tuesday night when it visits the Cavaliers, who have leaned heavily on Mo Williams in winning two of their last three games.
After opening the season with an emotional 88-80 win over Miami on Oct. 26, the Celtics (12-4) suffered a letdown the following night and lost 95-87 in Cleveland. Boston, which frustrated James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in one of the most highly anticipated regular-season games in years, had trouble against a Cavaliers team that got a game-high 21 points from J.J. Hickson.
"We took them a little bit too lightly," O'Neal said after that contest.
The Celtics haven't been caught off guard too many other times since. They won five in a row immediately following that defeat and are tied with Orlando for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
One of the three losses Boston suffered since falling to Cleveland came at Toronto on Nov. 21. The Celtics avenged that defeat with a 110-101 win over the Raptors on Friday.
Kevin Garnett finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, O'Neal added 16 points and nine boards and Rajon Rondo had 14 assists in his first game after missing three straight with a strained left hamstring.
Most of Rondo's passes led to layups and dunks, with Boston scoring a season-best 64 points in the paint.
"We knew we could attack the inside," said forward Paul Pierce, who had 18 points.
Although the Celtics have Garnett, O'Neal and Glen Davis in the post, they might not be able to rely as much on the inside game against the Cavaliers, who have allowed an average of 31.0 points in the paint in their last four games.
While Boston might not have been completely focused in the last meeting, Cleveland (7-9) has to make sure it does not to fall victim to a similar fate. The Cavaliers can't afford to look ahead to Thursday, when they host James and the Heat.
James is obviously missed on the Cavaliers' roster, but Williams is doing his best to fill that role.
Williams scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and finished with a season-high 12 assists in a 92-86 win over Memphis on Saturday. It was the second straight strong performance at home for Williams, who hit a 15-foot jumper as time expired in an 83-81 victory over Milwaukee on Wednesday.
"He's playing extremely well," Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. "He's trying to play the right way and make the right decisions."
Williams also appears to finally be healthy after missing the season's first three games with a groin injury. The point guard, averaging 19.4 points on 49.4 percent shooting in his last five games, averaged 6.3 points on 25.8 percent shooting in his previous three.
"Each team has got to have that guy to get something going as far as a flow in the offense," said Williams, an All-Star in 2009. "It's not going to be me every night. I'll be aggressive every night, but it's my job to get my teammates the ball and ride them."