Final, Celtics win 103-91: The Celtics should thank their lucky stars that they have Paul Anthony Pierce on their payroll. Without his 40 points, they probably would have walked out of the TD Garden with their fourth straight loss.
In addition to his scoring, Pierce also contributed eight rebounds, five assists and three steals in 33-plus minutes. He complemented strong games by Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Rajon Rondo, although their contributions were less consistent than The Truth’s.
With some improved 3-point shooting by the Cavs, who were 5-for-18 from deep, and a less standout performance by Pierce, this one could have gone very differently.
Fourth quarter, 3:13, Celtics 98-85: Collins is having some hard luck. He appeared to establish position as Irving barreled down the lane, but the referees awarded Irving two shots, rather than a charge. Then Collins fouled Thompson’s layup attempt, and the refs went to the monitor to determine whether it was a flagrant one or two foul.
They ruled it was only a flagrant one, but it was still enough to be Collins’ sixth foul of the game. To quote Ken Harrelson: “He gone.”
Fourth quarter, 4:30, Celtics 94-84: Just as quickly as the Celtics can lose a big lead, they can rebuild one. They only hope this one sticks.
Terry came up with a huge steal, and pushed the issue down the court, scoring a contested layup that must have sparked something in his teammates. Rondo then hit a jumper and Pierce drove hard to the hoop to draw a foul. After he hit both foul shots, the Celtics had a double-digit lead again.
Let’s see how long this lasts.
Fourth quarter, 5:28, Celtics 88-84: The Celtics may want to start closing out on Zeller a little harder. The rookie drilled another jumper to give him 20 points for the game as the Cavs refused to go away.
It goes without saying that this is Zeller’s career high in scoring. He has only scored in double-digits six times previously.
Fourth quarter, 9:27, Celtics 82-77: Rivers tried to see what a backcourt of Leandro Barbosa and Lee could give him. It gave him a five-point lead where a 20-point lead once had been.
Zeller dropped in a pretty baby hook and C.J. Miles banked home a three, ala Rondo the other night, and the Celtics were in danger of letting go of a wide lead yet again.
End of third quarter, Celtics lead 82-72: Just like that, it is a 10-point game. Irving has not forgotten the comeback and game-winning layup he hit against the Celtics last year, apparently, because he is not acting like this game is done with.
Irving scored 15 points in the third quarter as the Cavs cut a 20-point Boston advantage in half. Not even Pierce’s blistering 7-for-7 display, including three triples, were enough to tamp down the second-year guard.
Third quarter, 2:54, Celtics 80-60: Courtesy of the three-ball, the Celtics have taken control of this game. Pierce and Terry provided the deep balls to put ample distance between themselves and the Cavs. A comeback is certainly not out of the question for the Cavs — remember what Irving did to them last season — so the Celtics cannot let up, even with a 20-point lead.
The Celtics are 8-for-13 from beyond the arc, compared to 3-for-13 for the Cavs.
Third quarter, 5:56, Celtics 72-57: The Celtics have not done so well with double-digit leads — or any sort of lead — lately, so we will see how they do with this one.
Pierce drained a three from the left wing to make it nine straight Celtics points for him. Only an oop layup by Irvin broke up Pierce’s run. The Celtics needed every bit of it, too, since they seemed unable or unwilling to get out on Zeller defensively. The rookie worked his way up to 13 points, almost entirely on a pinpoint midrange jump shot.
Halftime, Celtics lead 54-46: You may know this already, but Garnett is pretty special.
Allegedly playing power forward even though Cleveland defended him like a center, Garnett went crazy in the second quarter. He entered with zero points on two shots and ended up with 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting in the frame. He also went deuces wild with two rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and two turnovers.
Pierce was the high man in scoring with 15 points, but Garnett was the guy making the action happen. His alley-oop, and-one finger roll from Rondo might have been the highlight of his first-half performance, but much of what he did will never make Sportscenter.
Second quarter, 2:59, Celtics 48-40: The Cavs have not gotten the volume scoring the Celtics have gotten from Pierce, who has 15 points, but they have evenly distributed the offensive load. Of Cleveland’s 40 points, 32 are spread among the starters, with no player having more than eight or fewer than four.
The Cavs’ problem is that their bench is not nearly as effective or balanced. Donald Sloan, Kevin Jones and Luke Walton each have one basket apiece.
Second quarter, 5:31, Celtics 40-36: Lee is making it tough for the Celtics to justify cutting his minutes when Avery Bradley returns. Once Zeller hit a jumper to cut Boston’s lead to one point, Lee nailed a crisp pull-up jumper and two free throws to restore the Celtics’ multiple-possession advantage.
Following a 3-pointer by Luke Walton, Lee dashed into the lane off a set play to knock in a layup off a feed from Garnett. The fifth-year veteran out of Western Kentucky can do some nice things, and it will be difficult for Rivers to send him to the bench.
Second quarter, 8:43, Celtics 32-31: Somebody should inform Jeff Green that just because it is called the “shot clock,” that does not mean he has to wait until the buzzer is about to sound to take a shot. Green provided one of his typical highlight-worthy double-clutch dunks, but he got caught letting the 24-second clock wind all the way down before he made his move a few possessions later.
Luckily for Green, the Cavs bailed him out by committing a dumb foul as the shot clock expired. There is such a thing as being too patient.
End of first quarter, Celtics lead 27-25: Not having Varejao is a huge hit for the Cavs. The absence is felt most on the glass, where the Celtics held just an 11-9 deficit. If Varejao was in there, you can be sure Cleveland would have a bigger advantage on the boards.
After Waiters’ hot start, Pierce and Rondo got on a roll. Both cracked double-digits in scoring in the first quarter, and in an extreme rarity, Rondo went the entire quarter without an assist.
First quarter, 2:12, Celtics 23-19: Rivers is right to say the Celtics are “not a good team right now,” but Pierce seems determined to prove that they are not so bad as to lose to the Cavs. Pierce has scored the last 10 points for Boston, single-handedly giving them a slight edge over the lowly Cavs.
First quarter, 5:01, game tied 13-13: Rivers’ gambit did not appear to work. During the five minutes Garnett spent on the court, the Cavs stuck 7-foot replacement center Tyler Zeller on him the entire time. The Cavs still view Garnett as the starting center, no matter what Boston’s lineup might say.
The matchup that killed the Celtics early had nothing to do with the frontcourt, though. Terry failed to get out on Dion Waiters, giving the rookie two open jumpers, and Rajon Rondo lazily approached Waiters on the wing, giving him an open lane to drive to the hoop for a layup.
6:50 p.m.: Doc Rivers’ widely-discussed decision to move Kevin Garnett to the center position last season had a major role in sparking the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals. It also had an unfortunate side effect for the Celtics, though.
No matter how Rivers juggles his lineups now, opponents insist on guarding Garnett with their own center.
Speaking before the game, Rivers suggested that he might make an additional change to the starting lineup in an attempt to combat this. In addition to replacing Courtney Lee with Jason Terry, the Celtics may also start little-used veteran Jason Collins at the five, with Garnett temporarily shifting to the four.
“Just because of his size,” Rivers said. “I’ve been talking about it a lot, I just haven’t done it. I’ve been trying to find ways of getting Kevin off the five spot all game. Right now, even when we bring the other guys in, the same guys guard him and he’s stuck in the same position. The only way you can force the action is with Jason.”
Terry’s inclusion in the starting lineup is in response to Tuesday’s game in Chicago, when he took only two shots with the Celtics’ second unit. Terry, like most players, does not play as well when he is not paired with Rondo, and Rivers worried that Terry’s shooting talents were being wasted.
That move contributed to Rivers’ leaning toward starting Collins.
“He’s not as good offensively, but I think he can make it up defensively,” Rivers said. “He’s our second-best pick-setter as well, and if you’re going to play Jason Terry in the starting lineup, you need another pick-setter.”
Working in Collins’ favor will be the absence of Anderson Varejao. The energetic big man will miss the game with a left lower leg contusion.
The projected starters appear below.
8 a.m. ET: There are three-game losing streaks, and then there is the type of three-game losing streak the Celtics bring with them back to Boston on Wednesday. The Celtics went winless on their road trip to Houston, San Antonio and Chicago, failing to crack 90 points in any game and letting all three opponents reach triple-digits in scoring. It was almost as ugly as those green-and-black things the Celtics call their alternate uniforms.
Next up is the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose 5-20 record suggests this game should be a walkover for the Celtics (12-12). The Cavs are a tricky bunch, though. Led by second-year point guard Kyrie Irving, the Cavs have lost close games to the Knicks, Grizzlies and Heat, yet have been blown out by the Timberwolves and the Pistons. They are coming off a 113-99 loss to the horrid Raptors in which Toronto sub Amir Johnson almost outscored Cleveland’s entire bench on his own.
In other words, the Cavs should not be taken lightly, because the Celtics have no way of knowing which Cavs team will show up. They are sort of like the Celtics that way, honestly.
Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.