No matter who would have won, I’m the loser for having to recap back-to-back games between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers which both featured large stretches of completely unintelligible basketball.
Thankfully, the Celtics got revenge with a 96-92 win over the Cavs despite some seriously offensively challenged stretches. The good news is that the defense still showed up, and for the fifth time in the last seven games, they held an opponent under 100 points. Offensively, the team was led by Jayson Tatum who looked more comfortable in the second half. He put up 23 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Ricky Rubio kept the Cavs alive with 28 points.
The Celtics came out with flat energy, which was disappointing. Instead of an offensive moment opening the gates to get the team comfortable, several defensive stops and some Grant Williams 3-pointers kept the Cs in it as the Cavaliers fought through their own struggles to jump out to an early lead.
In the second half, Robert Williams sat out due to left knee soreness. Aaron Nesmith started in his place, and he brought a ton of energy on both ends. It doesn’t matter if he’s doing the right thing or the wrong thing at every moment, but his jolt of energy does help a team that can look like it’s going through the motions at times.
Partially because of Nesmith, the Celtics as a whole came out with much better energy and flow. Al Horford was a steadying hand on both ends, Marcus Smart (14 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists) got downhill more often, and Tatum finally looked comfortable. This led to Boston leading the entire quarter, but a funky lineup that featured Enes Kanter toward the end of the quarter failed to really extend the lead.
Kanter redeemed himself early in the fourth quarter as he set some solid screens and had some good paint finishes to help the Celtics get a more comfortable lead and some breathing room. As a whole, the Celtics just looked much better in the second half. Thankfully, no extreme meltdowns came included this time.
Despite Ricky Rubio knocking down some tough shots and teaming up with Cedi Osman (26 points and 5 assists) to bring the Cavs to as close as a 1-point game with under two minutes to go, Smart, Tatum and Horford combined for enough shotmaking and defense before Dennis Schröder finished things off with three straight clutch plays to put the Cavs away for good.
What made the difference down the stretch was a combination of players stepping up for a more varied offensive approach compared to isolation plays. Schröder, hit Horford (17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks) with a great pass in motion and then got downhill for two shots of his own as he finished with 14 points.
The 7-7 Boston Celtics take on the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night with Jaylen Brown hopefully back in the lineup.
For more postgame coverage of the Celtics revenge game against Cleveland, tune into the the Garden Report Postgame Show LIVE on CLNS Media right after the game. Join A Sherrod Blakely, Bobby Manning, Josue Pavon, Jimmy Toscano and host John Zannis for a full breakdown. Plus, the guys will discuss Robert Williams missing the second half due to knee soreness.