Kyrie Irving scored 40 points and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics 95-90 Tuesday night at the Quicken Loans Arena. The Celtics got 17 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists from Rajon Rondo, but Celtic mainstays Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett shot just 8-28 from the floor. Rookie Jared Sullinger had another strong night, chipping in 12 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out, and Garnett did block five shots, but it wasn't enough as the Celtics shot just 38 percent. Boston has now dropped four in a row, dipping back below .500 at 20-21, and are still looking for answers.
Turning Point I
The Celtics, trailing by one at the half, clamped down on defense in the third quarter and had opened up a seven point lead after a Brandon Bass jumper with 3:16 to go in the third quarter. They then didn't score for the next three minutes, allowing Cleveland to tie it at 70 with under a minute remaining in the frame. Courtney Lee hit a three to put the Celtics back up going into the fourth, but missing this opportunity to extend the lead ended up costing Boston.
Turning Point II
The game remained tight all the way through the fourth quarter with neither team leading by more than three. However, Boston's offensive execution was just awful down the stretch. Rondo hit a jump shot to put the Celtics up 83-82 with 4:15 to go. They didn't make another field goal until a Lee three pointer with 1.5 remaining after the game had already been decided. The Celtics shot 27 percent in the second half. The were just 5-22 in the fourth quarter. The worst part: the Cavaliers are statistically the worst defensive team in basketball. The Celtics simply looked lost offensively. The couldn't score against the worst defensive team in the game.
Looking for Scapegoats?
A lot of people have been doing that since Doc Rivers' outburst following the loss in Detroit, wondering who it was targeted at. Well if you want one tonight, look no further than Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The two Celtic mainstays shot just 8-28 in the game, and combined to go 1-11 in the fourth quarter. This game was tight down the stretch, but every time the Celtics needed a bucket, one of their two go to guys failed to deliver. Pierce in particular has been killing the Celtics during this four game stretch. Tonight the Celtics offense looked to be moving right along, then Pierce checked back in, started forcing up bad shots, and the offense ground to a halt and never got going again. The same thing happened against Detroit, and Chicago, AND New Orleans, AND Charlotte. Garnett meanwhile did have a good game defensively, blocking five shots, but the C's gave him three post looks against smaller guys in the fourth quarter; he missed all three. It is very easy for fans to point the finger at the newer Celtics, saying that some of the new arrivals aren't giving the Cs what they need. Yes Jason Terry needs to shoot better, Brandon Bass needs to rebound more, and Jeff Green needs to drive more. However they were not the reason the Celtics lost this game. Pierce and Garnett lost the Celtics this game.
What It Means
At this point who knows. Four games ago the Celtics looked like they had turned a corner. The defense was locked in, the ball was moving and offense was clicking. Now they have shot under 40 percent in back to back games and look like they couldn't throw a rock in the ocean. The team is clearly not on the same page and they are running out of time to figure it out.
The New York Knicks visit the TD Garden on Thursday night, with tip-off set for 8 PM. If the Celtics do not even show up against the division leading Knicks, then it's probably safe to assume the Celtics won't be competing for another championship this season.
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