A 16-point Boston Celtics lead had been washed away by a tsunami of turnovers and missed shots, the type of devastating wave that now seems to haunt the Celtics for long stretches during every game.
Kyrie Irving was dominating. The sight of Anderson Varejao brought me nightmares, even if the Brazilian’s injury kept him from grabbing 45 offensive rebounds on this night. Paul Pierce couldn’t do anything right, Rajon Rondo didn’t seem very intent on scoring, the Cavs seized the lead in the fourth quarter, and the Celtics were perilously close to their sixth straight loss, a feat normally reserved for the dregs of the league, the bottom-dwelling type of varmint the Celtics have resembled far too often in recent weeks.
Nothing glorious happened from there. There was no specific play the Celtics could point to which pushed the outcome into the wins column, 86-83 Celtics. There wasn’t a Paul Pierce stepback jumper or a Ray Allen three-pointer, no Rajon Rondo dipsy-doo or Kevin Garnett alley-oop finish. The old folks — and especially Garnett, whose long arms, supreme instincts and wily knowledge saved the day — simply succeeded possession by possession, putting the brakes on Cleveland’s offense while making some key plays at their own end. When Anthony Parker’s miss bounded off the rim at the buzzer (“YES!!!!” came my primal scream, which certainly woke up all my neighbors, if not everyone who lives in my entire town), Boston’s losing skid was over and the season’s second half had begun victoriously, even if this win was not built for the perfectionist.
Boston succeeded down the stretch by blitzing Kyrie Irving on three successive pick-and-rolls, forcing two deflected passes and another Irving miss at the rim, which was contested almost perfectly by Pierce. In between their defensive stands, Allen dunked on the fast break and the Celtics drilled all their free throws. Garnett earned two especially important charity shots the hard way, rebounding his own miss and drawing a foul with fewer than four seconds remaining.
But it was Boston’s defensive effort that felled Cleveland’s attempt to steal victory.
Irving’s first pick-and-roll resulted in a pass stolen by Garnett and a subsequent Allen slam, which gave the Celtics the lead for good at 82-81 with a little less than a minute remaining. His second pick-and-roll also led to a bad pass, which nearly resulted in a similar Allen leak-out, but the ball bounced out of bounds and stayed with the Cavs instead. The 19 year-old’s third attempt at the pick-and-roll came next; Irving split a Celtics trap, but the rookie was soon thereafter met chest-to-chest by Pierce, whose arms looked like a clock striking midnight as he helped cause a miss inside the paint.
Then came Garnett’s miss, his rebound of his own errant attempt, and his two free throws. The Cavs called timeout afterward and inbounded from half-court, running a play designed to get Irving a three-pointer from the corner. But Rajon Rondo purposely fouled Irving before he could shot, a clever, albeit risky, strategy which paid off this time. After Irving and Allen traded free throws, Anthony Parker’s last-ditch 27-footer bounded off the rim and the Celtics had escaped.
– Brandon Bass doesn’t just score, though he does that quite well, and that’s almost always his intention. He also draws the defense like no other non-Garnett Celtics big man can. Bass is a threat who makes defenders commit, which alleviates some of the pressure on Boston’s other scorers, especially when Bass passes the rock.
On one play in the first quarter, Bass caught a pass on the right wing about 15 feet from the basket. If it were Jermaine O’Neal or Chris Wilcox, the opponents might have taken a knee and prayed for O’Neal to shoot. But because of Bass’ jump shot, two Cavaliers sprinted to him. He dumped it off to Ray Allen behind the arc, who was wide open for what seemed like the first time in three weeks. The Bass effect.
– Avery Bradley finished with just six points and three assists during his 16 minutes. He didn’t register a single steal, rebound or block, and his plus-minus was a damning minus-6. Yet I LOVED the way he played all night long.
Bradley drove calmly into the paint to draw opponents, then made smart, poised decisions to direct the ball to open perimeter shooters. He finished a nice drive with a balanced left-handed finish at the rim. He hit some mid-range shots, too, which could be fool’s gold, but there was nothing fluky about his overall performance. He didn’t make the flashy play, but he made the intelligent one, and he did it at a point guard’s pace, using hesitation and patience rather than a pedal-to-the-metal .
One and a half seasons into his NBA career, Bradley is still developing as a point guard. He showed promising steps tonight, looking as comfortable as (more comfortable than?) he ever has.
– Rondo is at times oddly hesitant to attack. That is no secret. Tonight was one of those nights when Rondo treats the paint like a quarantined room. There was one possession, I believe it was the fourth quarter, when Rondo drove the wing in semi-transition and Antawn Jamison picked him up. It would have been a perfect time for Rondo to think, “Well, Antawn Jamison is guarding me with little help, why don’t I just run straight by him and finish an easy layup?” Instead, Rondo slowed down the pace, tried to hit Garnett at the high post, watched as Jamison ran away from him, and launched — and I mean launched — a 13-foot jumper that bounced off the backboard with enough force to kill a small cat. If Rondo was in attack mode, he would have delivered an easy layup, or the defense would have helped and Rondo would have found a teammate for an easy layup. Instead, he was passive. And I don’t know why. The enigma continues.
– Rondo also had five turnovers, several of which caused me to scratch my head and ask myself, “Why?” Though it was far from his best night, the All-Star also finished with 11 assists. He’s a damn good passer, even on bad days.
– Keyon Dooling has not yet accomplished very much during his short Celtics career. I will leave it at that.
– I thought Mickael Pietrus brought great energy, which he often does. He also had a rim-rattling dunk that brought me back to the 2007 Golden St. Warriors run, which ultimately caused me to think about this:
Stream of conscience can be fun.
– Semih Erden looked pretty good for Cleveland. I remember when Danny Ainge shipped him away for a dozen used socks and a membership to the local YMCA.
– Am I the only one who thinks Ray Allen looks extremely slow defensively while reacting to dribble penetration?
– Chris Wilcox. My feeling of deep love for you continues to grow stronger.
– Not exactly sure where Paul Pierce’s head was tonight, but he threw a few extremely lazy turnovers.
– A win, yay! But the Celtics left a lot of room for improvement.