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The Boston Celtics (16-17) and Cleveland Cavaliers (13-19) have gotten used to unexpected drama. That’s kind of the season these two teams have had thus far: the Celtics somewhat surprisingly towards the middle of the Eastern Conference, and the Cavaliers joining them as a borderline playoff team.
For Boston, coming out of the All-Star Break with an 86-83 win against a team right below them in the standings is a good way to start turning things around. But there was plenty of problematic evidence to project a troubling second half.
The Celtics had started strong against the Cavaliers in their first two meetings this season, and they managed to do so again on Tuesday in Cleveland, leading 28-15 after the first. The chemistry and freshness of the team was clear after the break, as good ball movement enabled the strong offense.
The Celtics also crumbled following their fast starts in the first two games against the Cavaliers, keeping both games interesting late. It seemed inevitable that things would head there again as Kyrie Irving rallied Cleveland out of their early deficit.
The story of the year for Cleveland, Irving drew a charge from Paul Pierce which left Irving injured, walking off the court holding his arm. This frightened the Cleveland faithful throughout the arena, but to their relief he returned soon enough to help cut Boston’s lead to to just 43-38 at halftime.
Of course, more could be contributed to Boston’s faults than Irving’s presence. The Celtics got progressively more careless as halftime approached, ending the half with 11 turnovers.
From the start of the third quarter, it was clear Cleveland was ready for a comeback victory. In the first six minutes the Cavaliers managed a 15-8 run, highlighted by eight straight points from Irving. With the rally they regained a 53-51 lead. They began the fourth up 66-64.
The Celtics got back on track to keep pace with the hungry Cavaliers, with Pierce and Ray Allen being key contributors. After a quiet beginning to the game, Pierce ended up with 12 points and six assists, while Allen hit four three-point shots and finished with 22 points overall.
The Celtics’ problem was that they flat-out weren’t playing well. They ended up committing 17 turnovers while allowing 11 offensive rebounds by the Cavaliers.
In the end, though, free throws from Allen and Kevin Garnett late held off Cleveland, and Boston prevailed with the win. The game felt like it shouldn’t have been as close as it was, as poor decisions and turnovers by the Celtics kept the Cavaliers in it until the end.
Rajon Rondo was a major problem for the Celtics throughout the night, and Irving overshadowed him, finishing with 24 points, including a perfect 3-for-3 on three-point shots and 5-for-5 on free throws. Rondo, on the other hand, didn’t hit a shot all night, scoring nothing and going 0-for-6 from the floor. He didn’t even manage to make it to the line once in his 32 minutes of playing time. He posted 11 assists, but he also turned the ball over five times.
Next up, the Celtics travel back home, where they’ll take on the Milwaukee Bucks (13-20) – another competitor for the eighth playoff spot along with Cleveland and Boston.