End game, Celtics win 86-83: The Celtics survive a game in which Kevin Garnett did just about everything that won't be reflected in the box score. Brandon Bass carried them early, Avery Bradley provided quality minutes off the bench, Paul Pierce found his stroke late and Ray Allen scored 22 points, but Garnett was an animal.
The Big Ticket went for 18 points, eight rebounds and was perfect in eight free throw attempts in addition to near-flawless defense. He did not commit a personal foul after picking up three in the first half.
Kyrie Irving scored 24 points and was the best player on the floor for much of the game. He's a surefire future star, but when it counted in this game, he took a backseat to Garnett, a former star who still has something left in the tank.
Fourth quarter, :02.4, Celtics 86-83: Gee was not able to deny Allen from receiving the inbounds pass. The Celtics' best free throw shooter knocked down both shots.
The Cavs called their final timeout to draw up a potential game-tying play.
Fourth quarter, :03.5, Celtics 84-83: The Celtics intentionally fouled Irving, assuring the Cavs could not get off a 3. Irving hit both free throws and will try to foul the C's and hope to get the ball back with a chance to win or tie.
Fourth quarter, :03.9, Celtics 84-81: Garnett should never, ever stop getting credit for the things he does that never show up in the boxscore, because those things are the difference between winning and losing.
Just when the Cavs looked like they could put the Celtics away with the lead and the ball, Garnett came up with a loose ball and fired a football pass to Allen for the go-ahead dunk. Then, after missing a midrange jumper, Garnett followed his own miss and came up with the rebound.
Garnett was fouled by Jamison and hit both free throws, forcing the Cavs to go for the tie on the final play.
Fourth quarter, 1:21, Cavs 81-80: Pierce is locked in. The Celtics just hope they can slow down Irving enough for it to matter.
Pierce drilled a jump shot to give the Celtics an 80-78 lead, but Thompson split a pair of free throws and Irving drew a shooting foul on Bass, hitting both, to give the Cavs the lead.
An even bigger killer than Irving, however, is the Celtics' 18 turnovers and the 11 offensive rebounds they've given up to the Cavs. Those are not winning statistics.
Fourth quarter, 2:53, game tied 78-78: Bass finally refound his stroke with a jumper, and Pierce nailed a clutch 3 to give the C's the lead. But Irving continued to reveal he is a future star, if he isn't one already.
Irving slipped by Garnett for a tip-in off a Jamison miss to tie the score, giving the rookie a game-high 20 points.
Fourth quarter, 5:42, Cavs 74-73: Again, Rondo taking off up the floor before he secured the outlet pass cost the Celtics. Inexcusable.
After having to hold off the Cavs for three shots on a single series, the Celtics finally earned a stop when Wilcox pulled down the rebound. It was a bad pass by Wilcox, who should have been aware of Irving lurking, but Rondo tried to make a half-turning, half-running catch and Irving easily came away with a steal.
Such mistakes are costly against average teams like the Cavs, and would be deadly against a good team like the Bulls in the playoffs.
Fourth quarter, 7:19, Celtics 73-72: Good idea: Double-team Garnett. Bad idea: Leave open Allen to do it.
Allen knocked down a 3, as he often does, to give the Celtics the lead. Rondo replaced Bradley, who played about as strong an all-around game as he has since he became a regular member of the rotation.
Fourth quarter, 8:46, game tied 70-70: Point guards love big men who run the floor, and that makes Chris Wilcox just about the most popular forward on the team among the Celtics guards.
Wilcox caught an oop dunk from Rondo earlier in the game, and his flying flush of a Keyon Dooling pass gave the Celtics a brief lead. Sessions and Thompson answered to take back the lead for Cleveland, but Bradley — who ran the offense effectively at the end of the third and stayed in to begin the fourth — scored on a spot-up jumper to tie it back up.
End of third quarter Cavs 66-64: The Cavs' point guard duo of Irving and Sessions wiped the floor with the Celtics in that quarter. Sessions and Irving were up to 29 combined points, with 18 of those points coming from Irving, while Allen and Garnett went cold.
Bradley and Pietrus picked up some of the slack, but the Cavs' speed — as well as their eight rebounds — proved troublesome for the C's.
Third quarter, 2:35, game tied 60-60: With any luck, these teams will end the regular season tied and the NBA will institute a play-in game for the eighth and final playoff spot. They're so evenly matched, a game for the right to play in the postseason might be one for the ages.
Being evenly matched with the Cavs isn't exactly something the Celtics would like to brag about, but it has made for an entertaining game thus far.
In the absence of a hero, Avery Bradley took up the mantle for the Celtics. The backup point guard finally provided Irving with some defensive resistance, and scored twice before firing a crosscourt pass to Pietrus for a game-tying triple.
Third quarter, 5:30, Cavs 53-51: Just like that, the Celtics lead was gone.
The Cavs outscored the Celtics 15-8 over the first 5:42 of the third quarter, taking the lead on a dunk by Tristan Thompson off a feed by Parker. The Cavs had not led since 10:41 was left in the first quarter.
Irving was responsible for most of the comeback, scoring eight straight Cavs points to help knot up the score twice. Semi Erden, who had a couple of nifty assists, scored on a putback to tie the game the possession before Thompson game the Cavs the lead.
Halftime, Celtics 43-38: A side effect of heightened ball movement can be turnovers, and the Celtics fell victim to fumble-itis in the first half. If not for 11 turnovers, the Celtics' edge would be much wider.
Then again, the Cavs also hurt themselves in the first half. At the free throw line, they went 7-for-12. Those five points are equal to Cleveland's deficit, as you may have noticed.
Here's a look at the good, the bad and the so-so.
The Good: Ramon Sessions has become something of a forgotten man now that Kyrie Irving owns Cleveland. Sessions is still quite a good point guard, though, and he showed it given some extended playing time. He leads the team with nine points off the bench. … Brandon Bass went 5-for-6 from the field to tie Ray Allen with 10 points. The forward out of LSU also registered a blocked shot and two steals in 20 minutes. Allen was 4-for-5 shooting and 2-for-3 from 3-point territory.
The Bad: Something about Paul Pierce just looked off. He only attempted one shot, committed two turnovers and picked up three personal fouls. … Daniel Gibson did his darndest to neutralize the good things Irving and Sessions did at the point. Gibson misfired on four of his five shots and committed three turnovers with just one assist in 15 minutes.
The So-so: Rajon Rondo handed out seven assists, which was nice, but he also turned the ball over five times and missed all three shots he took. … Kevin Garnett continued his solid play, but he needed to be a little less aggressive. He scored 12 points but committed three fouls, which could be a problem for a Celtics team coping with two frontcourt players coming off injuries.
Second quarter, 2:42, Celtics 39-34: Rajon Rondo just provided another example of why he can't be counted as a better point guard than Derrick Rose, Derrick Williams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker or Steve Nash.
After Greg Stiemsma came off the bench to deliver a jumper to push the Celtics' lead to nine points, the Celtics forced a defensive stop. But Rondo took off upcourt while receiving the outlet pass, instead of coming back to the ball. It's a fundamental mistake that none of those top six guys make, and it resulted in a turnover.
Irving, a sharp point guard, converted the open-court layup after the steal. Irving had to leave earlier in the game, but he returned to the bench with a wrap on his arm.
Second quarter, 3:40, Celtics 39-32: The Cavs can't catch a break. Irving, the future of the franchise, had to leave in a hurry holding his arm after drawing a charge by Pierce.
The worried looks on the faces of the people in the Cleveland crowd said it all.
Second quarter, 5:54, Celtics 37-30: Chip, chip, chip. That's the sound of the Cavs working their way back into this game.
Brandon Bass finally missed a shot, and that proved to be trouble for the Celtics. The forward has been Boston's only reliable scoring option other than Garnett.
Daniel Gibson and Gee each scored to get the lead down to five points, but Pierce showed trust in Bass by going right back to him after Bass missed a foul line jumper. Bass' shot from the right baseline hit true, and the Celtics will try to rebuild their wide lead from the first quarter.
Second quarter, 7:35, Celtics 35-26: The standard Cavs comeback got under way a little early in this game. Instead of waiting for the fourth quarter to wipe out a large deficit, the Cavs began chipping away at what was once a 16-point Celtics lead.
Alonzo Gee and Tristan Thompson, two young players Cleveland will try to build with around Kyrie Irving, had two baskets each in the second quarter. A dunk by Sessions cut the Celtics' lead to nine points, prompting a time out by Doc Rivers.
End of first quarter, Celtics 28-15: The rest did the Celtics good, if the first quarter was any indication.
The Celtics looked much sharper than the much younger Cavs in the first quarter, particularly 35-year-old Garnett and 36-year-old Allen. Garnett gave Antawn Jamison work on the block, scoring eight points, and Allen notched eight points on two 3's and a fallaway jumper.
First quarter, 4:20, Celtics 22-10: Does this sound familiar? The Celtics got off to a strong start against the Cavs, threatening to bury Cleveland in the first half.
That was the story in these teams' first two meetings, too. In both games, the Cavs came back to make it a close game late, and even worked a win.
First quarter, 5:57, Celtics 16-10: That ball movement, which has been missing during the Celtics' five-game losing streak, made a return in the early minutes of Tuesday's game.
Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass picked up assists on skip passes to Ray Allen for 3-pointers. Those shots accounted for the difference in a six-point Celtics advantage.
Kevin Garnett was active after going five days without a game, scoring back-to-back baskets and defending with his typical furor.
6:50 p.m.: There's a heated debate taking place in Cleveland among Cavs fans. Should the Cavs, currently 1 1/2 games behind the Celtics for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, make a postseason push or try to hang back and take their chances in the draft lottery again?
On one hand, making the playoffs is considered to always be a positive experience for a young team. On the other hand, the eighth seed will most likely be little more than a sacrificial lamb for Miami or Chicago. In the long run, the Cavs might be better off getting another top-14 draft pick and focusing on the future.
6:40 p.m.: In a change from how they've done things of late, the Celtics will actually field something that resembles a standard starting lineup Tuesday against the Cavs.
The Celtics, who used 6-foot-6 swingman Mickael Pietrus as a power forward in the final game before the All-Star break, will slide Brandon Bass into the starting lineup at power forward. Bass has been out since Feb. 10 with an inflamed right knee.
Chris Wilcox is also back, while Jermaine O'Neal reportedly remained in Boston to see a hand specialist about his left wrist.
The best news for the Celtics may be that Anderson Varejao, who embarrassed the Celtics by putting up 20 points and grabbing 20 rebounds (10 offensive) in their last meeting, has been out since mid-February with a broken right wrist. That alone should make the Celtics look better down low. Old friend Semih Erden is expected to start in Varejao's place.
The Cavs get back Anthony Parker, who missed 12 games with a sore back. Parker might be best known for being the brother of former No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick Candace Parker, and for being the only 83-year-old in the NBA.
Just kidding. Parker is only 36, but it seems like he's 83.
The projected starting lineups appear below.
8 a.m.: Rajon Rondo presumably returns from his two-game sabbatical (actually, he returned for the skills competition and the NBA All-Star Game) on Tuesday as the Celtics visit the Cavaliers.
Things have gone much better for the Cavs since the last time the Celtics saw them. When the Celtics opened a home-and-home set against the Cavs back in January, Cleveland was on a string of losing five of six games before splitting its two games against the Celtics. The Celtics, for their part, were coming off a four-game win streak and in the midst of winning nine out of 10.
Well, the Celtics aren't riding so high now. They lost their last five games prior to the All-Star break, as you're probably aware, while the Cavs closed out the first half of the season by winning three of five. The Cavs can pull within a half-game of the Celtics for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings with a victory Tuesday.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which is scheduled for a 7 p.m. ET tip-off.