Celtics’ Effort Erases Late-Game Struggles In Statement Win Over Cavs

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Celtics guard Marcus Smart

Photo via Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) drives on Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the third quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. The Celtics won 104-103.

There are plenty of NBA teams that have more talent than the Boston Celtics. But it’s becoming clear that few teams in the league play harder.

The scrappy Celtics proved as much Friday night in a thrilling road win over the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers, battling back from several large deficits to set up Avery Bradley’s buzzer-beating heroics.

Boston faced adversity right out the gate, as LeBron James and Co. opened the game on a 14-2 run. After the Celtics finally clawed back to tie the score early in the third quarter, the Cavs responded with a 16-4 run to go up big again.

Some teams might have folded under Cleveland’s third-quarter surge, but not this Celtics team, which ripped off a 12-2 run early in the fourth quarter to make it a ballgame.

“They were making shots at the beginning. They were playing tougher than us,” Bradley told CSN New England’s Chris Mannix in a postgame interview aired on the network. “That’s something that coach (Brad Stevens) talked about and we talked about as players, and I feel like we responded really well.”

That, of course, was the good news, as was Boston scoring five points in the game’s final eight seconds to steal the win. Less encouraging, though, was that the Celtics faltered down the stretch, surrendering 3-pointers to Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith and letting James take over to turn a seven-point lead with 3:20 remaining into a five-point deficit with a minute to go.

“We were up, then we did some things that got them back in it,” guard Marcus Smart said in a postgame interview on CSN New England. “We let a shooter who’s been hot all night (Smith) get wide open, and he knocks down a three. Then they come back, and you get one of the best players in the NBA (James) going and doing what he does and getting to the rim.”

But that’s where the negative narrative ended, as Boston rallied in the final minute to earn what only can be described as a statement win over one of the best teams in the NBA.

“We never gave up. We kept fighting,” Smart added.

Stevens agreed with the hard-working guard, adding that playing to the final buzzer, as cliché as it sounds, has been a “calling card” of this Celtics team.

Does Boston still have flaws? Of course. But a lack of effort certainly isn’t one of them, and the Celtics used their infectious energy to take out a team that likely will be playing well into the NBA postseason. And if the C’s keep playing like they are now, they have a legitimate chance of extending their season into the spring, as well.

Thumbnail photo via Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images

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