After an up and down game, the Celtics went from alright, to looking horrible, too being promising again. The 124-118 loss isn’t what you want, but the Celtics showed the type of resistance and fight that you want to see from a team that you expected to be advancing to the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs.
The Cavs came out with the mission to stop Isaiah Thomas. So they put in 28 year-old rookie Deandre Liggins to defend Thomas and tried to press him full court in order to not allow a rhythm. AB started on fire, hitting his first three shots and finishing with 11 points in the quarter. Boston tried to make a point to attack Love with Horford. Al capitalized with a nice fadeaway, then a patient post-up. But after Celtics took 11-8 lead, Cleveland responds with 8-2 run led by Kevin Love who had 11 points by midway through the first. The highlight sequence of the quarter was Lebron throwing an errant pass to AB, chasdown blocking AB, going in transition himself, but getting chase down blocked himself by Horford who then threw it out in transition for a quick Celtics two.
Block party on @NBAonTNT! First LeBron, then Horford! #NBARapidReplay pic.twitter.com/W29kGgbvmm— NBA (@NBA) December 30, 2016
Teams were playing at a pretty good pace and generally getting the shots they wanted. Cavs aggressive closeouts led the Celtics to speed up their offense a bit, but were still able to mostly find the right shots. On the Cavs end, their ball movement was very impressive. Celtics were forced to fly across court, and that forced them at times to be out of position for rebounds to the delight of Tristan Thompson.
Irving woke up near end of first, and-1 layup, breakaway steal, 3 Ft’s after fouled while shooting. It sparked a 13-2 run that ended up leaving the Celtics down 25-32 after one. Cavs finished the quarter assisting on 10 of their 11 field goals made.
The 2nd quarter started with Thomas-Smart-Gteen-Jerebko-Olynyk. IT who got the early hook in the first, came out firing in the 2nd quarter with a couple of nice takes and drawing a foul on a three. Gerald Green also started the quarter off strong hitting a couple three and a tough post-up. After going back and forth a bit, the Cavs re-pushed their lead to 7 after a couple of nice Irving layups, and some bad defensive lapses on Kelly Olynyk (who’s really been looking more and more expendable). After a 30ft end of shot-clock three from James, the Cavs pushed out their lead to 10 (59-49, with about 3:30 left in the half. Good news for Celtics? Thomas got himself going in the quarter, he got to the. Line 7 times, 2/3 from three, and had 19 first half points, (leading all scorers).
IT #celtics https://t.co/nhvt2jtfh1— KWAPT (@KWAPT) December 30, 2016
Boston wasn’t able to net any points towards Cleveland, but they went into the half only down seven, staying in striking range.
Second half started with a lot of sloppiness. Celtics got in foul trouble early and didn’t find much offense. Cavaliers capitalized by starting off the quarter on a quick 10-0 run highlighted by the Celtics absolute refusal to defend Kevin Love. Before the game got completely out of hand, Thomas found his groove again in the quarter capitalizing on and-1 layup, and finding Bradley in transition for three. Cutting what was a 20 point game back to a much more manageable 13 point deficit by about the midway mark of the quarter. But the Cavaliers quickly re-took the lead led by crisp ball movement, second chance of opportunities, and getting to the line. Besides for Isaiah Thomas the Celtics simply just didn’t have an answer on the offensive end. The performance from Al Horford was specifically disheartening. Through three the big had a mere 6 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, and was hardily noticeable on the court. Celtics throughout the game tried to make it a focus to get him involved in the post, but he was unable to exploit any possible mismatches or space the floor much on the offensive end. Can’t imagine this is the impact Boston had in mind when they brought Horford in this summer, but it’s still not the time to make any grand conclusions on what he can do against the Cavs. Celtics will learn and get better from the experience. How much better? Who knows, it might not even be the same Celtics roster by the time the Cavaliers visit the Garden.
With Boston down 18 going into the final frame, the Celtics turned to a Smart-Brown-Crowder-Jerebko-Zeller lineup that looked more like just an experimental white flag than an actual attempt to win. However, Boston got stops, capitalized in transition, scored in the halfcourt behind Smart Pnr looks, and all of a sudden Boston was on a 21-7 run and down only 102-108.
#TuneInAlert - The Celtics bench is making a run and it's a 6-point game in Cleveland. pic.twitter.com/11XIL4OSWw— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 30, 2016
After the starters subbed back in, the Cavs made a quick jump to go up 113-1-5, but after a Crowder step back three, Bradley stole an inbound and hit the layup to cut the deficit to 110-113.
The reports of the Celtics demise was greatly exaggerated pic.twitter.com/YbtyTJiAhj— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 30, 2016
After a series of traded buckets highlighted by difficult finished from both Irving and Thomas the Celtics found themselves down 3 with the ball and 53 seconds left. Thomas drove to the hoop and drew a foul on James, putting himself on the line and the Cavs in the penalty. After hitting both FT’s, Lebron James was able to draw a foul on Marcus Smart and get to the line. He missed the first, but nailed the second. With 21.3 seconds left, the Celtics got the ball down the court and Crowder got an open look at a three with about 10 seconds left. However, the shot just missed, and Richard Jefferson corralled the rebound before being fouled instantly and sent to the line. After Jefferson hit both FT’s the Celtics called t.o with 8.5 seconds left. Boston attempted to get a quick two with a Horford in the post, but he was stripped by James and the Cavs ended up closing the game.