BOSTON — The Celtics knew they were getting a do-it-all, workaholic basketball coach when they signed Brad Stevens to a six-year contract last summer. They probably didn’t know they were getting a marketing genius as well.
After the Celtics were done turning a 22-point lead into a razor-thin 103-100 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, Stevens ran into team president Rich Gotham and offered up a new slogan for the box office. Blowing double-digit leads has become an uncomfortable habit for the Celtics, who were finally glad to avoid another embarrassing defeat.
“You know, I was telling Rich Gotham, it should’ve been promoted as part of our holiday package: ‘Every Game Is An Adventure,’” Stevens said. “That would’ve been a great thing to promote. ‘Green Runs Deep, #everygamesanadventure.’ Maybe we can work on getting that on the website?”
Stevens could joke about the harrowing victory because, this time, it was in fact a victory. The Celtics let a 22-point advantage get away in their home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks, signaling the start of a season-long trend. They let commanding leads over the Pistons and Wizards disappear last week to knock them out of first place in the Atlantic Division, and they almost did it again Saturday.
The Celtics (12-17) looked like they may actually be in for an easy one when they stretched their 15-point halftime lead to 19 points over the Cavs (10-19) heading into the fourth quarter. Then Kyrie Irving, who tallied 11 points on six shots in the first half, continued the hot streak he began in the third quarter. Irving scored 21 of his game-high 32 points in the second half and the Celtics failed to score a single basket in the final two minutes, forcing Brandon Bass to come up with a huge block on Dion Waiters and requiring Avery Bradley to blanket Earl Clark on Cleveland’s last-ditch shot attempt to preserve Boston’s victory.
“This game is made up of runs,” said Jeff Green, who tied Jordan Crawford with a team-high 19 points. “They were not shooting well the whole game, but eventually we knew Kyrie was going to get his points and Waiters was going to come alive. [Jarrett] Jack hit a couple of threes that brought them closer. We just had to keep our composure and we did a great job of that. We didn’t allow that run to affect us down the stretch.”
Bradley said the Celtics need to be better about heeding the advice of Crawford, as scary as such a thought might be.
“I think we relax,” Bradley said. “Jordan says it all the time, let’s keep the pedal down and try to increase our lead. We always come out and make dumb passes and we show how young we are as a team. To be a great team in this league, you have to get rid of those plays.”
Crawford may have the right attitude when it comes to keeping the pressure on opponents, but his enthusiasm can go too far. With the Celtics clinging to a dwindling lead in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Crawford took off down the court on a three-on-two fast break. Green was too his left. Bradley was to his right.
After crossing halfcourt, Crawford leaped, did a weird behind-the-back move and fired the ball directly out of bounds.
It was almost a back-breaking miscue, but Stevens did not sub out Crawford and Crawford wasn’t very contrite about the error later.
“I like to have fun out there,” Crawford told reporters. “I kept the team loose with that turnover.”
Jordan Crawford, folks. Sometimes infuriating, never unexciting.
Something about the Cavs brings out the inner Dana Barros in Bass. This is the squad Bass victimized for his first career 3-pointer with a halfcourt heave — with more time than he realized on the clock — back in November. On Saturday, in a similar situation, Bass doubled his career mark from downtown.
Bass had to chase the ball out beyond the 3-point line when it was poked out of his hands in the post on a Celtics possession in the third quarter. Apparently thinking the 24-second clock was close to expiring, Bass launched a three — with seven seconds on the shot clock.
The ball went through the net, forcing Bass to smile and cracking up Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks on the bench. Sullinger half-jokingly played up the significance of the shot after Boston’s three-point win.
“That was a big shot,” Sullinger said. “Without those three points, it’d be a tie game and we’d be headed to overtime right now.”
Bass, who now has two career threes on his resume, deadpanned about his untapped potential as a sharpshooter.
“That speaks volumes of my shooting,” Bass said.