A 21-point Celtics lead had become two. Fewer than two minutes remained in the fourth quarter. Anderson Varejao had already stacked 20 points and 20 rebounds. A perfunctory win had begotten the possibility of a disappointing déjà vu, and the ball found itself cradled in Kevin Garnett’s hands, his back to the basket.
His turnaround jump shot hit the front rim, bounded into the air and hung suspended in the basket cylinder for perhaps a second. The Celtics probably didn’t deserve it to fall, but a quick breeze, or luck, or physics pushed it through the hoop and Boston avoided a second straight embarrassing loss, ultimately escaping with a 93-90 win.
It’s unclear exactly how Boston built its 21-point lead, except that the Cavs matched Boston’s energy for three quarters, which is to say that both teams — with the glaring exception of Varejao, who played like a rabid rabbit in heat — had little sense of urgency. Varejao had 20 rebounds. Boston’s starters combined for 15. Boston avoided turnovers for three quarters and shot the ball well, allowing it to gain separation from the outmatched, at least talent-wise, Cavaliers. But Cleveland turned on the gas in the fourth quarter, Boston kept on the emergency brake, and very little pushed Boston ahead to reach .500 at 10-10.
Viewing the game as part of the bigger picture, it’s difficult to determine what to take from such an uneven effort. Paul Pierce scored like himself at times. Ray Allen surprisingly notched eight assists. Jermaine O’Neal blocked a late Varejao shot and contributed a few nice dunks, but otherwise he — and the rest of his mates — were unprepared to match Varejao’s never-ending supply of caffeine. E’Twaun Moore showed signs of his growing confidence, Avery Bradley demonstrated that perhaps he can contribute more offensively by attempting to do less, and the Celtics did enough to win, but not enough to make anyone feel comfortable with their performance.
These Celtics have occasionally shown an ability to outwork their opponents (think the two Orlando Magic wins), but tonight they built a lead by outplaying the Cavs, then struggled once the Cavs decided to make the contest a battle of wills.
“Varejao’s energy is just amazing,” Doc Rivers said during his press conference after the game. “It’s just amazing watching him run around relentlessly and pursue balls.”
I yearn for the old days, when people used to say the same about my beloved Celtics, every night.