The Boston Celtics didn’t give the Cleveland Cavaliers much of a contest when the two teams met back in December. Friday night was quite a different story.
The resilient Celtics survived Cleveland’s massive early run at Quicken Loans Arena and another Cavs surge in the third quarter to take the best team in the Eastern Conference down to the wire in the fourth. That’s when Celtics guard Avery Bradley played the role of hero, drilling a fadeaway 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Boston to an improbable 104-103 win.
Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 22 points, while Evan Turner dropped 17 points, 12 rebounds and six assists off the bench and Tyler Zeller added 16 points. As he usually does, LeBron James paced the Cavs with a game-high 30 points, while J.R. Smith added 20 points thanks to five 3-pointers.
The Celtics now are 30-22 and have won eight of their last nine games.
Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger
ON THE DEFENSIVE
The Cavs’ ferocious defense had Boston on lockdown out of the gate.
The Celtics scored on just one of their first eight possessions, as James and Iman Shumpert led a strong defensive effort that shut down Boston’s passing lanes and forced the C’s to commit eight turnovers in the first quarter.
On the other end of the floor, Cleveland’s potent offense dropped 32 points in the frame thanks to plays like this one by Kyrie Irving:
STEMMING THE TIDE
The Celtics’ bench continued its strong play to calm things down a bit after the Cavs’ big opening quarter.
Zeller saw some more action and responded with eight points before the break, two of which came on this nice dish from Marcus Smart:
The C’s also picked things up on the defensive end, upping the pressure on James and Co. to get back into the game.
Boston closed out the half on a 12-4 run and scored the first seven points of the third quarter to take a surprising lead over a seemingly lackadaisical Cavs club.
The Celtics’ slim lead didn’t hold for long.
The Cavaliers finally woke up after Boston’s big run, responding with a 16-4 run of their own that included a pair of Smith 3-pointers. The C’s struggled to regain their offensive rhythm after their hot start to the quarter, making just four buckets in the final nine minutes of the third quarter to allow Cleveland to open up an eight-point lead.
BIG SHOT BRADLEY
Bradley delivered the Celtics’ biggest shot of the season to date.
The gritty C’s erased their second big deficit of the night by locking Cleveland down on D during a 12-2 run to start the fourth quarter. Boston kept its foot on the gas, as Turner and Sullinger each made key buckets as part of another 11-2 run that featured more stellar defense.
James and the Cavs battled back and led by as many as three points with under 10 seconds to go, but Smart’s hustle after a Turner missed free throw helped set up Bradley’s heroics.
Kevin Love suffered another scary-looking injury while playing the Celtics.
Kelly Olynyk wasn’t involved this time, but the Cavs forward got tangled up with Smart in the third quarter and fell down in pain with what looked like an awkward left leg injury.
PLAY OF THE NIGHT
Is this even up for debate?
Football isn’t the only sport being played on Super Bowl Sunday. The Celtics are back home at TD Garden this weekend to take on old friend Rajon Rondo and the Sacramento Kings, who have lost six of their last seven games. Sunday’s matinee is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET.
Thumbnail photo via Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images
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