Celtics-Cavaliers Live: Kyrie Irving’s Strong Second Half Falls Short as Celts Win 103-100

Avery BradleyFinal, Celtics win 103-100: In a game that saw Jordan Crawford take several ill-advised shots, Avery Bradley nearly had the biggest brain cramp of them all.

After a huge block by Brandon Bass on a Dion Waiters layup attempt with the Celtics ahead by two, the Celtics got the ball and were able to pass it around without the Cavs fouling. But with Bass and Kris Humphries chilling under Boston’s hoop, Bradley inexplicably dribbled into a corner and was fouled.

Bradley missed the first free throw and hit the second, allowing Cleveland to draw up a potential game-tying play from halfcourt with one second remaining. Fortunately for Bradley and the Celtics, Earl Clark pump-faked and never got off a shot. Kyrie Irving, who scored 21 of his 32 points in the second half, didn’t get to take the final shot.

The Celtics win — but barely.

Fourth quarter, :18.7, Celtics 102-100: If the Celtics win this game, it will be completely despite themselves. A big offensive rebound and drawn foul by Brandon Bass is all they’ve really got to show in crunchtime. Kyrie Irving, who took just six shots and had 11 points in the first half, has erupted since. He’s got 32 points.

The Celtics have been outscored 34-17 in the fourth. Another two and we’re headed to overtime. More than that and this is another ugly loss for the Celts.

Fourth quarter, 2:36, Celtics 98-94: Jordan Crawford, at his worst.

With the Celtics’ lead unraveling, Crawford got the ball in transition with Jeff Green on his left and Avery Bradley on his right. Crawford jumped, spun the ball behind his back and unleashed a pass straight out of bounds.

How Stevens didn’t yank Crawford then and there is a mystery. It’s also a mystery why the Celtics as a team have forgotten how to play basketball.

Fourth quarter, 5:48, Celtics 94-86: Tick, tick, tick. At this point, the clock is the Celtics’ best friend. After committing nine turnovers in the first three quarters, the Celtics have turned the ball over four times and gotten stagnant on offense. Avery Bradley has a couple of putbacks to give Boston some offense, but mostly the Celtics are standing around on both ends, watching the Cavs score and themselves miss shots.

Fourth quarter, 8:51, Celtics 86-74: Of course, the Celtics never make it easy on themselves.

Wildly disappointing No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett was able to score, which isn’t good, and also able to get to the foul line as the Cavs open up the fourth quarter on an 8-1 run. If not for a free throw by Courtney Lee off a defensive three-second violation, the Celtics would be in the process of getting shutout in the frame.

End of third quarter, 85-66: Jeff Green has faded a bit, but mostly just because his teammates have picked up where he left off. He has just two points since halftime, but he’s now one of five Celtics players in double figures.

The Celtics are rolling along, shooting 9-for-21 from 3-point range and piling up 20 assists, to set up what should be a 12-minute breeze in the fourth quarter. It’s rarely that easy for this team, but they were able to outscore the Cavs 26-22 in the third quarter to avoid the customary one-quarter disaster.

Maybe this game will be different.

Third quarter, 6:34, Celtics 71-53: Brandon Bass now has two career 3-pointers. Both have come with plenty of time left on the clock. That makes them even better.

Bass, who drilled his first career triple a couple of weeks ago when he launched a halfcourt shot with several seconds left, unleashed a wing three with about seven seconds on the shot clock. The ball was all cash, though, bringing a sheepish grin to the power forward’s ace.

Bass’ three and a couple of ill-advised shots by Jordan Crawford that happened to go in have enabled Boston to avoid its usual post-halftime swoon. They’ve doubled up Cleveland so far in this quarter 10-5 as Avery Bradley scored a layup over a prone Anderson Varejao, who was still on the ground after trying to sell an obvious flop to the officials.

Halftime, Celtics 59-44: When Brad Stevens draws up his ideal game, this has to be pretty close to what he imagines.

The Celtics are moving the ball, forcing turnovers and keeping Cleveland’s run game in check. Boston is shooting 58 percent with 16 assists on 25 field goals, while the Cavs have nine turnovers and have yet to score a single fastbreak bucket.

Jeff Green is playing free and easy on offense with 15 points, Courtney Lee leads a productive bench with 10 points and the starting backcourt of Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley is 7-for-12 combined with six assists and two turnovers. Even the Celtics’ six turnovers have been the kind that come from aggression and not just poor decisions.

Based on the Celtics’ recent trends, then, expect a massive letdown in the second half.

Second quarter, 5:30, Celtics 40-32: Just give Courtney Lee the damn ball.

Lee has come off the bench to lead a flurry of Celtics activity at both ends. He has eight points, including two 3-pointers, plus a steal and a forced turnover by Dion Waiters that doesn’t count as a steal but benefits Boston regardless.

Lee even mixed it up with the big boys to keep alive a Celtics miss. He didn’t get the offensive rebound, but Jared Sullinger was able to come up with the ball for a layup.

Second quarter, 10:15, Celtics 28-22: Boston’s bench hasn’t been the most consistent group, but they’re showing their Cavs counterparts how it’s done. Courtney Lee scored on dribble drive and Gerald Wallace found Jared Sullinger streaking ahead of the defense for a fastbreak layup.

Wallace almost had two points of his own when he made a tough catch on an interior pass by Kelly Olynyk and was fouled, but Wallace missed both free throws. That’s pretty much how it’s gone for Wallace this season.

End of first quarter, Celtics 24-22: Apparently, the officials are just going to let Kris Humphries and Tyler Zeller toss each other all over the court tonight. OK, then.

Zeller blatantly held Humphries from saving a ball that was going out of bounds and Hump shoved Zeller directly out of bounds underneath the hoop at the opposite end. This could lead to some interesting stuff later in the game.

Away from that action, Jeff Green is carving up some unfavorable matchups for the Cavs. He’s attacking the basket, particularly when Cleveland tries to check him with a smaller defender like Jarrett Jack. Green has a game-high 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting. He’s not doing it alone, though. The Celtics have eight assists on 10 field goals.

First quarter, 4:49, Celtics 15-14: The Cavs forced a turnover on the Celtics’ first offensive possession and forced Boston to miss four of its first five shots.

They’re already better without Bynum, right?

Well, not quite. Jeff Green found his rhythm and the Celtics hit five of their next seven shots to take the lead. Green has seven points early to lead the Celtics over the Cavs, who are playing like they’re a little shell-shocked by this morning’s odd developments.

12:10 p.m.: Andrew Bynum will not play for the Cavs after being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. The big man did not even travel to Boston and will be replaced in Cleveland’s starting lineup by Anderson Varejao.

For more about this bizarre situation, read what Cavs coach Mike Brown and Celtics coach Brad Stevens had to say prior to the game.

Stevens didn’t seem all that worried about how the loss would affect the Cavs. In fact, Stevens said the Cavs have been better at times without Bynum, and that the Celtics will still need to be ready for a battle down low with Varejao, who Stevens “loves.”

A lot of times, in cases like this, teams play really well coming off of something like this, so we’re going to have to be really good today. I don’t think it impacts them in any way that could be a negative from their standpoint.”

Varejao has been the better big man for Cleveland this season despite playing behind Bynum in the rotation. Varejao is averaging 11.0 rebounds per 36 minutes and makes the Cavs more “aggressive” on defense, according to Stevens.

The projected starting lineups are below.

Cavaliers
Anderson Varejao
Tristan Thompson
Earl Clark
C.J. Miles
Kyrie Irving

Celtics
Jared Sullinger
Brandon Bass
Jeff Green
Avery Bradley
Jordan Crawford

8 a.m. ET: Whatever kinks the Celtics had that resulted in their current three-game losing streak, they have plenty of time to work them out during a five-day break.

The Celtics (12-17) went almost an entire week without a game and three days without so much as a practice, but it’s back to work Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers (10-18). Kyrie Irving and the Cavs are on a three-game swoon of their own, including Thursday’s double-overtime heartbreaker against the Hawks.

If the Celtics feel bad for themselves about losing the Atlantic Division lead to the Raptors, they are still in an enviable position compared to the Cavs. Despite beginning the year with high hopes, the Cavs stand outside the playoff picture in the underwhelming Eastern Conference. Rumors are even starting to suggest Cleveland could be sellers on the trade market.

Join us for updates and analysis from TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 1 p.m. ET.