“Kyrie Irving happened”
That was Boston coach Doc Rivers’ response to the sensational rookie point guard scoring 15 of his game high 40 points in the 4th quarter, including Cleveland’s last seven points as the Cavaliers won a nip and tuck 95-90 victory over the Boston Celtics Tuesday night in Cleveland.
Irving’s 40 came on 16 of 24 shooting and a perfect 7 for 7 from the line for his Cavaliers, who improve their bottom feeding record to 11-32. Tristan Thompson chipped in with 21 points and nine boards while Alonzo Gee rounded out the double figure scores for Cleveland with his 10 and six rebounds.
Rajon Rondo again led the Celtics in points and rebounds, netting 17 points and hauling down 13 boards while just missing out on a triple-double with 8 dimes. Kevin Garnett threw down 16 points while Paul Pierce continued to struggle from the field sinking only 3 of 15 shots for 12 points while trying to work through one of his worst shooting slumps in recent memory.
He was able to fight for 7 rebounds and spread out seven helpers while hitting 5 of 6 from the line. Jared Sullinger again made a case for a bigger role with the club, grinding out a 12 point 10 rebound effort and providing a physical presence on defense. He fouled out with just seconds left in the game.
Neither team defended well in the 1st quarter and the second quarter saw some inspired play by both teams defensively, with Cleveland going into the locker room up 54-53. Avery Bradley, who played stellar defense despite being handicapped by a head cold and bruised ribs also gave the Celtics the offensive spark in the third quarter to build a lead, hitting 2 three pointers to give Boston a seven point lead.
“I feel for Avery because that’s a hard injury to play through,” Rivers said of Bradley’s toughness. “It hurts to breathe and it hurts every time you get hit anywhere near your ribs.”
But the Celtics’ lead was short lived.
Irving scored 11 points in the final 2:33 on four layups and three free throws to give Cleveland back-to-back wins at home for the first time this season and send Boston to its season-high fourth straight loss.
His layup gave Cleveland an 84-83 lead with 2:33 remaining. He followed with another layup after Rajon Rondo’s turnover to put the Cavs up three. Four free throws by Garnett sandwiched around a basket by Alonzo Gee left Cleveland with an 88-87 lead.
Irving outscored the Celtics 7-3 the rest of the way to give them back-to-back home victories for the first time this season while sending the Celtics to their fourth consecutive loss and a game under .500 at 20-21.
Boston coach Doc Rivers seemed jovial after the loss, animated in his post-game presser – but nobody really knows if it’s a sign that the Celtics played better than in their tirade producing loss to the Pistons on Sunday or if it was a sign of resignation…either way, the Celtics have a tough road ahead.
“I thought the first quarter, offensively, we were terrific and defensively we were bad.” Rivers conceded, ” I thought the third quarter probably set the game of basketball back 30 years by both teams. And then the fourth quarter, we didn’t get much better offensively” then a pause, “and Kyrie Irving happened…and he made some tough shots.”
Boston now plays three of the Eastern Conference’s elite in four nights starting Thursday with their much anticipated rematch with the New York Knicks in Boston before a shorty to Atlanta to play the Hawks the following night, then finishing the set with the Miami Heat visiting TD Garden on Sunday.
Cleveland, a team pretty much playing out the string but certainly not laying down for anyone have the Bucks at home on Friday night then travel north of the border for a date with the Toronto Raptors on Saturday. After that, Cleveland enters a stretch of the season where they play 8 of their next 9 and 13 of 17 at home, including homestands of seven and five games.
For the to Celtics enter this critical stretch with another bad loss has to be disconcerting to Rivers, but he also understands that he has a banged up shooting guard and a forward that has trouble finding the broadside of a barn…for now he’s just laughing nervously while hoping the Celtics break out of this funk before they lose sight of the Atlantic Division leading Knicks.
A victory over New York on Thursday night would stop the bleeding and keep those Knicks in sight.
At least they don’t have to worry about Kyrie Irving happening to them.