This may be Paul Pierce Day, but the game between the Celtics and Cavaliers preceding The Truth’s retirement ceremony had more immediate significance. The Cs wanted to rebound from a week marked by losses to Eastern Conference powers like the Raptors and Pacers. The Cavs needed to show off the roster they radically reshaped three days earlier at the trade deadline…and they did, viciously routing our heroes.
Damn. BANNERS AND NUMBERS HANG FOREVER THO.
THE GAME FLOW
Kyrie gleefully drew first blood with one of his signature balletic-drive layups to begin the contest. His desire to assert himself was as palpable as it’s ever been—understandable, as this is the last time the teams square off before any future playoff skirmishes in the playoffs. The Cavaliers countered quickly with a Tristan Thompson layup and J.R. Smith trey, but after that, Irving successfully defended Bron into an off-balance shot that missed, then burned him on the other end for a corner three. This shit was war from jump—not chippy, but fierce as hell.
Boston got ahead off the efforts of Kyrie, Marcus Morris and Al Horford, but new Cavalier George Hill showed off his penchant for getting to the charity stripe and converting, while their Turkish rookie Cedi Osman continued his recent run of impressive play to steal the lead. It remained immensely close for the duration of Q1, though, regardless of who led. What with the recent Cs games featuring early deficits, this wire-to-wire competition was great to see, with early highlights like Irving’s aforementioned work and two high-flying Al Horford dunks.
The new guys the Cavs got are very good at best and still decent at worst: Hill immediately showed his value, and Larry Nance Jr. made some nice plays late in the first. It’ll take time for the new guys to cohere, sure, but preemptive coronations of Cleveland as suddenly Great Again are already happening, and they seem fishy. Roster overhaul doesn’t erase the issues of a once-toxic/now probably-still-uncomfortable locker room, a browbeaten, overmatched head coach, an idiotically vain Comic-Sans-writing, MAGA-hat-wearing owner who might sell the team, and the specter of LeBron’s possible exit during this summer’s free agency. LeBron does look much happier, though.
Nonetheless, they got slightly ahead of the Celtics and stayed that way for much of the second quarter. Mostly the lead was small, but it crept up to 10 at the 3:00 mark of Q2. It could’ve reached 13 if not for Osman blowing his turnover-forcing opportunity to get a dunk. One obvious benefit of the Cavs’ deadline-day infusion of youth was drastically accelerated pace, which caught the Celtics off-guard and lead to turnovers and miscues ending up in a 64-52 Cavs lead at the half.
No immediate improvements for the Cs showed themselves coming out of the locker room for the second half. LeBron, Thompson and Hill racked up 11 quick points in the time it took the Celtics to get 8, with the Cavs’ lead hovering between 10 and 15. Boston only showed life in Q3 between the 8:00 and 7:00 span, after which shit got out of hand.
The whole squad, of late, has shown offensive struggles, and that is a non-starter if you want to beat Cleveland. However insane their locker room, however inept their defense, the offense is undeniably strong beyond just LeBron, unlike the Cavs teams in his first run with that franchise, and if you give ’em a garrote by allowing open shots, they’ll crush your bloody windpipe with it. That’s exactly what they did in Q3’s second half, and the Cavs lead passed the 20-point mark.
(This is the part where we point out how much the Celtics miss the defensive presence and 2nd-unit playmaking of Marcus Smart. He’s undeniably flawed on offense and has impulse control-issues, but his ferocity on the defensive end has been a key highlight throughout most of the Brad Stevens era. His return to the fold in about a week or so can only be a good thing.)
As the fourth frame began, the Celtics were doing some things well, particularly cutting and passing, but could hardly score. The Cavaliers had no such problems. They poured on the punishment in a Belichickian manner, their lead approaching 30 at some points during the quarter, not wanting Boston to have a chance in hell at the sort of comeback they’ve specialized in so frequently this season. With a 111-86 lead at the 5:14 mark of Q4, this one was pretty much in the bag for LeBron and company. (I don’t even want to think about the probability figures involved in analyzing whether a 26-point comeback is possible in 5 minutes and change of NBA regulation time.)
The bench mob performed well in what ESPN play-by-play man Mike Breen accurately referred to as “extended garbage time,” but there was no chance to do much else but make this L into a less embarrassing one. Which, to the credit of Terry Rozier, Daniel Theis, GREG MOOSE and even the much-insulted Abdel Nader, was exactly what they did. But there’s no getting around the massive defeat this turned into, a final 121-99 loss.
HOT ISH: The first quarter was legitimately good, and the second wasn’t bad until the waning minutes. Third quarter…different story. Everything fell the fuck apart.
NOT ISH: The entire second half. Boston’s and defense stagnated entirely until garbage time.
At least we got this Horford dunk.