BOSTON - The Cleveland Cavaliers came into TD Garden on Friday night losers of two in a row, and continued their slide thanks to a strong overall showing from the Boston Celtics. The Celtics started the same five from Monday night’s win in New Orleans, with the exception of Aron Baynes filling in for Al Horford on his off night. Marcus Smart had another positive impact on the Celtics’ rotation, alongside an impressive 27-point effort from Kyrie Irving to lead Boston to their second straight win.
Smart immediately made his presence felt on the defensive end, forcing a turnover on the game’s first possession. His defensive energy, along with Jayson Tatum’s early 5 points, helped the Celtics jump out to a swift 9-2 lead in the first two minutes.
The Celtics continued to benefit from using Smart as the primary ball-handler in the early going, with Kyrie Irving working effectively off the ball. Irving started 4/4 from the field with 10 points in the game’s first eight minutes. He took full advantage of his matchup with Collin Sexton, whose defensive game still has long ways to go. Irving finished the first quarter with 13 points on 5/6 shooting.
Despite a quarter where it felt like the Celtics should have been ahead by double-digits, the Cavaliers quietly hung around, posting a strong shooting performance of their own. Irving continued to lead Boston through the second quarter, including this beautiful pass to Baynes inside:
Boston really upped their defensive effort towards the end of the first half, helping them extend their lead to 10 at the break (also thanks to a Marcus Morris second-quarter buzzer- beater).
Gordon Hayward looked very strong in 15 first-half minutes, going 4/6 from the floor for 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. He’s looked more and more comfortable with each game over the last two weeks, and Friday was another step in the right direction.
The Celtics offense really clicked out of the break, stretching the lead to 21 midway through the third quarter. As our own Keith Smith said on Twitter, the margin on talent really showed tonight when both starting fives were on the floor. Irving continued his abuse of the Sexton-matchup, and the Celtics never looked back. With 3 minutes left in the third, Irving had 29 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists on 11/15 FG (5/7 3pt) in 27 minutes. He’d finish with that line, as he did not see any fourth quarter action.
This one was never close during the second half, as Cleveland simply could not matchup with the Celtics lineup. Weird Celtics Twitter got their ideal lineup halfway through the fourth, with Robert Williams, Guerschon Yabusele, Brad Wanamaker, and Semi Ojeleye all on the floor at the same time. Yabusele saw some time in the first half, but the bulk of his minutes came in the fourth quarter. PJ Dozier also made his Celtics debut, after being called up from the Maine Red Claws on Friday afternoon, scoring 7 points in 5 minutes of action.
It was Geno time at TD Garden with 3:27 remaining, as C’s fans left the building with a win for the first time since November 16th.
I mentioned this above, but it’s worth another note - It sure looked like Hayward took Irving’s advice from earlier in the week to heart, as the Celtics forward had one of his best games of the season, finishing with 14 points on 6/9 shooting in 24 minutes along with 4 assists and 4 rebounds. He was confident and aggressive with each on-ball possession, while moving very well and consistently off the ball, a great sign for Boston moving forward.
The Celtics head to Minnesota tomorrow night for an 8:00 PM EST tip-off with the Timberwolves.