Breaking Down The Cleveland Charge
Chase Whitney /March 27, 2023
It’s all come down to this.
After closing out the regular season with a pair of clutch wins, the four-seed Maine Celtics are set to host the five-seed Cleveland Charge at the Portland Expo in the First Round of the NBA G League Playoffs presented by Google Pixel. The postseason matchup marks the third meeting between the Celtics and Charge this season – Maine swept a back-to-back at home in mid-February just prior to the All-Star break.
Maine held Cleveland to just 84 points on the front end of last month’s back-to-back, the only time the Charge were held below 90 points in both the Showcase and the regular season. Tony Snell put up what was then a G League career-high of 23 points and Maine sank 17 three-pointers as a team to claim the first win, and Marial Shayok logged his eighth 20-point performance in nine games to lead the Celtics to the series sweep. Shayok suffered a season-ending injury soon after that contest, though, and will be sidelined on Wednesday, while the Charge were without both Two-Way players and January’s G League Player of the Month, Sharife Cooper. There should be a few wrinkles to this playoff game that weren’t present when the teams met back in February.
The G League is renowned for its quick pace of play, high-powered offenses and teams’ tendency to hoist plenty of threes. The Celtics and the Charge check a few of those boxes, but not all. Ahead of Wednesday 2:00 PM EST playoff game aired on ESPN2, let’s crush the numbers one more time.
As a team, the Charge do take plenty of threes, relying heavily on outside shooting and the league’s third-highest free-throw attempt rate to score points. Two-point range is where the Charge stand out; Cleveland scores just 46.1 percent of their points from inside the arc, the fewest of any team in the league, due in large part to their league-worst 58.7 percent shooting mark from within five feet of the rim. Though the Charge score the sixth-most points per game from long-range, Maine leads the league in that category, and both teams rank in the bottom-half of the league in pace of play and are among the bottom-seven in turnover rate – if the offenses don’t set the tone early on, we could be in for an old school-style playoff battle at the Expo with Mfiondu Kabengele and Luka Šamanić locking down the paint and forcing tough looks on the Charge.
Cleveland holds it down on the defensive end as well. On the year, they rank fourth in the league in defensive rating, though in the last five games of the season, they boasted the 11th-best defense while Maine was sixth. The Charge don’t generate a ton of steals or blocks, but they do force opponents into tough shots and score 19.1 percent of their points off turnovers, the third-most in the league. Cleveland’s defense holds opponents to 34.2 percent shooting from deep, but not only do the Celtics opponents shoot with even less efficiency from deep, Maine’s offense also leads the league with 15.1 threes made per game. Limiting live-ball turnovers, forcing the Charge to walk the ball up the floor and steering them into bad shots while making enough triples to stay afloat will be crucial for the Celtics.
As mentioned above, the rosters look a bit different now than they did last month. The Celtics are without their third-leading scorer in Shayok, while Sharife Cooper rejoined the Charge late-February after missing a handful of games due to injury and the Cleveland Cavaliers sent Sam Merrill and Dylan Windler down on assignment for the first-round matchup. Cooper has eight games with double-digit assists this season and is a commanding playmaker on top of his 22.8 points per game. Merrill and Windler are off-ball shooting threats, with Merrill offering some secondary playmaking and Windler, the 26th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, being a go-to option late in the shot clock.
Fresh off a G League Player of the Week award, Kabengele rolls into the postseason playing his best ball of the season. Boston’s Two-Way center has seven-straight double-doubles, scoring 20-plus points in six of those games, including 28 points and 21 rebounds one night followed by 30 points and 10 rebounds the next time out to snap the Long Island Nets’ 16-game win-streak. He’s shot 64.5 percent from the floor, 47.8 percent (11-23) from deep and 84.4 percent from the line while putting up 25.3 points and 14.9 rebounds per game across the final seven games of the regular season.
For the first time since 2017, the Maine Celtics are in the NBA G League playoffs and hosting a game. It’s time for the Celtics organization to hang another banner – only this one will hang from the rafters of the Portland Expo.