BOSTON — Isaiah Thomas didn’t need a reminder of the explosiveness of Terry Rozier Wednesday night. But he was given an up close and personal refresher anyway.
Before the game, Thomas was the central focus upon his return to TD Garden for the first time since the blockbuster summer trade and for the first time since his season debut on Tuesday night. But when the Cavaliers and Celtics took the court, Thomas, sitting out the game to rest, was just another very interested spectator who watched as Rozier put on a clinic.
In their first meeting with the Cavs since losing Gordon Hayward and the game on opening night in Cleveland, the Celtics used a balance scoring attack from the likes of Rozier (20 points, 8-of-12 shooting) and Jayson Tatum (15 points) to complement the usual production of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to post a 102-88 win before a very satisfied TD Garden crowd. The Celtics improve to an NBA-best 31-10 with their fourth straight win since the Christmas Day loss to Washington. Boston now leads third-place Cleveland (25-13) by 4.5 games in the Eastern Conference.
LeBron James had 19 points to lead a Cavaliers team that was playing on the second night of a back-to-back. In his return to Boston, Jae Crowder struggled (2-for-10), missing his first six shots and finishing with just four points.
For a full boxscore, click here.
Thomas cleared the air before the game on his relationship with Danny Ainge, being patient in his return to play and his love and adoration for Boston fans. Thomas attempted to bury the hatchet with Ainge when asked about his relationship with the Celtics President of Basketball Operations.
“Have I forgiven Danny? He texted me (Tuesday) night, so, yeah, we’re good,” Thomas said. “I love this city, I love this organization. They’ve given me the opportunity to be who I always wanted to be and I can’t thank them enough”
He joined his Cleveland teammates on the bench with just under three minutes left in the first quarter. The always observant Celtics crowd noticed this and gave him a round of applause. But as was his request, the team did not show a video tribute as they have provided for returning players in the past.
The game entertainment staff did show Thomas during a second quarter timeout and Thomas acknowledged the fans.
WATCH: Isaiah Thomas acknowledges the love from Celtics fans in a video board appearance during 2nd quarter timeout pic.twitter.com/Xu2BgCZJVn— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) January 4, 2018
The full Isaiah Thomas tribute could likely happen when the two teams meet again on Feb. 11, the same day that Paul Pierce’s No. 34 will be raised to the rafters.
“I don’t know why (fans are) so mad about it,” Thomas said before the game. “I’m not taking nothing from Paul Pierce. He did 15 years here so there’s nothing I can take from him. If they choose to do it that night, that would be great and I would be honored.”
Early on, the Cavaliers only offense was LeBron James driving to the basket, including a coast-to-coast run for the first basket of the game. The Cavaliers led 9-8 before the Celtics went on a 9-2 run to open a 17-11 lead. An ice-cold Kevin Love helped Boston’s cause, as the star big missed all seven shots in the first.
Terry Rozier capped a strong opening period for Boston with a pair of threes in the final 39 seconds sandwiched around a put-back tip. The 8-point spurt put Boston up, 32-21, after one.
A string of three consecutive Kyle Korver threes early in the second quarter was the only thing keeping the Cavaliers within striking distance. But Daniel Theis responded with a pair of threes of his own as the Celtics maintained a double-digit lead at 42-32. But a fourth Korver three and three-point play from Jeff Green made it 45-40 with four minutes left in the first half.
Rozier capped an impressive 10-point first half with a driving dunk with seven seconds left but JR Smith came back less than five seconds later with a three to make it 55-47 Boston at the half.
Jaylen Brown hit a three with just under 11 minutes left in the third to put the Celtics up, 60-49. After the shot, he stared at the Cleveland bench, and in the direction of Thomas who came up off the bench following the made shot. Al Horford and Jayson Tatum followed with threes and the Celtics led 66-52 with 9:17 left in the quarter. Tatum followed with a fadeaway jumper and then two free throws and the Celtics had a 70-52 lead with seven and a half minutes left in the third.
With chants of MVP reverberating in the Garden, Kyrie Irving hit a free throw with just over six minutes left in the third, completing a three-point play that was the result of a LeBron James goaltending on his drive to the basket, putting the Celtics up 20, 75-55.
The Cavaliers made run toward the end of the third quarter, finishing on a 13-6 run to cut it to 81-68 heading into the fourth, despite a spectacular reverse dunk from Jaylen Brown.
Every time the Cavaliers made a run in the fourth, Rozier was there to answer, connecting on a pair of key baskets in a 60-second span to keep the Celtics comfortably ahead. Rozier put the game on ice with a three with 5:33 left to build Boston’s lead to 21, 98-77.