BOSTON — There are many ways to lose a basketball game, and the Celtics have demonstrated their share of those ways this season.
They have given big leads away. They have fallen behind by a lot and nearly come back. They have fallen behind by a lot and stayed that way for the whole game. They have played good teams tight for a while before giving the games away.
The Celtics have been all over the map in the many ways they have managed to lose, but now they can finally say they have done exactly what needed to be done in one, blissful victory.
“We finally put everything together,” Jeff Green said following the Celtics’ 103-86 win on Friday. “We’ve had our ups and downs throughout the season. We’ve had our quarters where we’ve played well, quarters where we didn’t, but it was good to put an all-around good game together.”
The Celtics (7-11) led wire-to-wire against the Cavs (4-12), sprinting out to an 18-2 lead and only letting Cleveland get closer than 15 points the rest of the way. They continued to turn the ball over at a disturbing rate with 17 giveaways in the game, but they shot 50 percent from the field, 47.8 percent on 3-pointers and dished out 26 assists on 38 field goals, literally twice as many dimes as the Cavs recorded. They led by as many as 25 points and at times it seemed like more.
“I think it’s so important to play through the horn in this league, because things can really change quickly,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We were down 13 or 15 with 1:58 to play the other day [against Memphis] and all the sudden there’s 15 seconds left and we’re down three.
“You never feel comfortable when they’ve got great guards and some of the moves Kyrie Irving made in the first half were fantastic. I thought we guarded him pretty well and he made us pay anyways. So you never feel comfortable as long as those guys are still out there.”
Oh yeah, about Irving. The Cavs’ All-Star guard must have made most of us drunk to pick Cleveland as a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, because they look to be in the running with Utah and Milwaukee as the worst team in the NBA. Dion Waiters led the team in scoring with 21 points on Friday, but only two of those came before the Celtics established a commanding lead. Irving, who had 17 points, looked like the only Cavs player truly capable of holding his own as a professional basketball player, with the possible exceptions of Jarrett Jack and Anderson Varejao.
To be fair, Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark are better than they showed on Friday, when they combined for nine points. Irving’s very presence also gives Cleveland a leg up on Utah or Milwaukee, since neither of those teams has a player of his caliber.
But in one stretch in the second quarter, after the Celtics had gone ahead by 20 points, Irving shot the ball on four straight Cavs possessions and none of those shots could really be argued with. He was the Cavs’ best option — the best player on the floor, really — and their best bet was for Irving to shoot as often as possible.
Still, that’s not a great way to maximize the success of a point guard. Or a team.
Brandon Bass had more time than he realized when the tossed up a 28-footer at the end of the third quarter, but it was probably better that he didn’t know that. It made it all the more perfect when Bass banked in the running 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds on the clock to push Boston’s lead to 21 points.
Even better, it was Bass’ first career three, after 16 attempts as a pro.
Bass left the locker room without doing interviews after the game, but when approached in the hallway, he was surprised it was his first triple. Stevens was equally shocked Bass’ shot went in, but he was less shocked at his team’s overall shooting numbers because of its ball movement.
“It’s the most important thing, delivering timely passes,” Stevens said. “It helps you hit threes. We banked in a couple. Jordan [Crawford] banked one in and Bass banked one in where I think he thought six seconds would go a little quicker than it did. We got lucky on a couple of those. But we did move the ball and we got good shots otherwise.”
Crawford ended up being the biggest beneficiary of the Celtics’ ball movement with his third career triple-double. Known as a scorer first, Crawford actually hit double figures in scoring last on Friday, finishing with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 of the Celtics’ 26 assists.
Jared Sullinger might have had the oddest stat line of his life on Friday. Sullinger, traditionally a rebounder and low-post banger, finished with just four rebounds and scored 12 points, all on 3-pointers. He’s now 6-for-8 from beyond the arc in the last two games, reinforcing Stevens’ belief that Sullinger and other bigs like Vitor Faverani should keep firing away.
“I don’t know what their coaches told them in the past,” Stevens said. “My deal is, if you can make the three, you might as well shoot it when you’re open. We don’t have guys that necessarily are going to dominate in isolation all the time. What we do have are guys who have unique skills for their positions and can move the ball, so we want to try to take advantage of that.”