Final, Cavs 95-90: Doc Rivers’ attempt at a wake-up call did not work out this time. Coming off a listless performance that caused their coach to threaten major changes, the Celtics delivered another uneven game as their losing streak stretched to four games.
Kyrie Irving had his way with the Celtics’ backcourt, dropping 40 points as Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley could only watch and reach. Rondo went for 17 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, while Jared Sullinger posted 12 points and 10 rebounds, but overall this was another unacceptable display by the Celtics.
Fourth quarter, :22.8, Cavs 93-87: Irving will be winning this game, folks. He toasted Rondo and got to the hoop, where he collided with Sullinger. It appeared the Celtics rookie had position, but the whistle went Cleveland’s way and Irving picked up the and-one. Sullinger, meanwhile, picked up his sixth foul and is gone.
Fourth quarter, :52, Cavs 90-87: Irving is just too fast and too clutch.
Thanks to four free throws by Garnett, the Celtics were able to pull within a point and had a chance to take the lead after Thompson was whistled for kicking the ball to himself on the ground. But Garnett’s fadeaway jumper on the ensuing possession was off, and Irving motored downcourt and right past Pierce for a double-pump layup.
At 20 years old, Irving is already one of the top point guards in the NBA. That is indisputable. He also might be one of the top closers in the NBA, too.
Fourth quarter, 2:32, Cavs 84-83: Quietly, Rondo has proceeded toward another triple-double, not that it will mean much if the Celtics lose. Rondo has 17 points, 12 boards and eight assists with more than two minutes to go, but the No. 1 statistic Rivers would like to see is for Rondo’s opposite number, Kyrie Irving, to score zero points from here on.
Irving has 31 points, including an uncontested reverse layup to give Cleveland the lead, although it may have been aided by an uncalled kick ball by Zeller. Either way, the Celtics have to dig in to avoid consecutive loss No. 4.
Fourth quarter, 5:59, Celtics 79-76: Irving showed the Celtics his game-closing abilities last season, so you would assume they do not want to get into another tight one with the second-year guard. But Irving, who followed his 23-point first half with only two points in the third quarter, may be getting geared up for another furious finish.
Irving, who has only gotten better in his sophomore campaign, dropped in a jumper to briefly give Cleveland the lead. Pierce hit Rondo along the baseline for a layup and then converted a pair of free throws to keep Boston in control, but Irving might only be lying in wait.
Fourth quarter, 8:54, Celtics 75-72: The Celtics may well win this game, but this is far from the inspired effort many thought was necessary after Sunday’s disappointing display.
The Celtics continue to play with hiccups on offense, and they have forced only eight turnovers so far. They are getting outscored by 10 points in the paint and have generated only one basket off of a Cleveland turnover.
End of third quarter, Celtics 73-70: Much like the Hornets, Bulls and Pistons, the Cavs just keep hanging around. More accurately, the Celtics let them hang around.
Zeller, Gee and Thompson all showed off their finishing abilities around the rim as the Cavs refused to go away in the third quarter. They forced Sullinger into picking up his fourth foul and even put Bradley into a bit of foul trouble with his third personal.
Terry, Lee and Garnett managed to give Boston the lead by calmly executing a play with 12 seconds left to get a corner three by Lee with 0.2 seconds on the clock, so the Celtics lead, for now.
Third quarter, 6:32, Celtics 64-58: Both teams came out ice cold out of the break, going scoreless until Brandon Bass canned a jumper at the 9:40 mark to break the spell. A back-and-forth few minutes finally saw Avery Bradley give Boston some breathing room with a pair of back-to-back corner threes to give the Celtics their largest lead of the game, a whole six points.
Halftime, Cavs 54-53: Not that Rivers has control over whether players get traded, but if he did the Celtics did not exactly play well enough to keep their jobs in the first half.
Sullinger held up his end with 10 points and eight rebounds, Rondo had 13 points, five assists and zero turnovers, and Garnett put up 10 points and blocked two shots, but as a whole the Celtics’ defense was just as sieve-like as it has been during their three-game losing streak. They allowed to Cavs to shoot 50 percent from the field and get 17 assists on their 21 field goals.
Irving went off for 23 points, but scoring was not the only way the Cavs point guard carved up the C’s. He was responsible for most of the rest of the offense, too, whether Thompson dunking off the screen-and-roll or Walton finding a hole to slip in a layup.
Second quarter, 5:51, Celtics 41-37: The first 12 minutes belonged to Irving. The second 12 have belonged to Sullinger.
Sully reached eight points in the frame with a spinning hook shot to give the Celtics their largest lead of the game. With 10 points and seven rebounds overall, he could have a double-double by halftime.
Second quarter, 9:10, Celtics 35-33: Whenever Danny Ainge decides to blow up this team — which is probably never — he might want to hang on to this Jared Sullinger kid.
Sullinger has almost single-handedly moved the Celtics back into the lead with his hustle. He has seven boards total and five offensive boards in less than eight minutes. That’s right, we said five offensive boards in less than eight minutes. He drew a foul and dropped two free throws to bring Boston within two points, then scored a putback to tie the score.
Jason Terry completed the 6-0 run with a pull-up jumper in transition.
End of first quarter, Cavs 31-27: Letting Luke Walton get two layups in one quarter might be justification enough to trade a player posthaste.
If it was not for Irving dominating the first quarter with 19 points, a career high for a single quarter, Walton’s antics might have been the most embarrassing thing to happen to the Celtics. This is not the way to respond to a coach’s challenge.
First quarter, 2:55, Cavs 24-19: Luke Walton danced into the scorebook with a running layup, but this is still Irving’s show so far. Irving finally missed a shot, but he came right back to bank home and oop. (And by the way, Walton’s shot was assisted by Irving.)
First quarter, 4:57, Cavs 20-15: Kyrie Irving and Rajon Rondo have not been directly matched up most of the time, but they have a mano a mano battle going regardless.
The two point guards have provided a few highlights each already, combining for 17 points. Of course, Irving has 13 of those. The Cavs’ lead guard was the clear winner in the early going, hitting all five shots he took and adding a couple of free throws for good measure. Irving’s hot start enabled the Cavs to take the lead despite some strong shooting by Pierce and Garnett.
6:23 p.m.: The “Will he? Won’t he?” question as to whether Avery Bradley is available, which has dominated the pregame conversation in the last two games, was answered early for this game.
Despite a head cold and bruised ribs, Bradley is expected to suit up and start for the Celtics. He gets to defend a pretty good young guard, whether he has to check second-year point guard Kyrie Irving or rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters. Waiters is slated to start in place of C.J. Miles, who has an illness.
The projected starters appear below.
8 a.m. ET: Go ahead and try to figure out these Celtics, because all our attempts thus far have failed. They head to Cleveland on a three-game losing streak, and not even the dire situation in which the Cavaliers find themselves is enough to convince us that the Celtics will take care of business.
The Cavs (10-32) are reeling from Monday’s news that center Anderson Varejao, who was having a career year, is done for the season. As though losing four of their last five games was not bad enough, the Cavs must now move forward without their leading rebounder and frontcourt scorer. Kyrie Irving and rookie Dion Waiters will have to carry the Cavs on both ends of the floor, and that presents a challenge for the Celtics (20-20). Boston has struggled to keep up with teams that boast two capable backcourt scorers, having already lost three of their four meetings with the Bucks. The Cavs could present some intriguing problems.
If Avery Bradley continues to battle pain in his ribs — he started Sunday’s game in Detroit but played only 19 minutes — Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry will need to be in top form. This will be the Celtics’ first chance to show coach Doc Rivers that they heard his disgusted message on Sunday, and that drastic changes to the roster are not necessary.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 7 p.m. ET.