The Cavaliers play defense like they’re waiting for the bus that takes them back on offense. They’re standing there, but most of the time they aren’t doing anything. The Cavaliers beat the Celtics Friday 122-121 because LeBron put on a clinic (41 pts on 16-27 shooting, 7 assists) and Celtic guard Rajon Rondo missed the bus – dribbling out the last seven seconds without taking a shot.
Coach David Blatt’s going to need antacid by the pallet if this continues. The Cavs gave up 60 points in the paint and an absurd 62% field goal percentage inside the arc. Rondo went by Irving like a guy on a subway platform, forcing lots of rotations that allowed him to dish 16 assists to his teammates.
It’s okay to pass below the pick as Irving does here – because Rondo’s a poor jump shooter – but you have to close out quick and cut him off. By riding his hip, Irving forces Anderson Varejao to leave the Celtics’ Jared Sullinger open for a corner 3.
The game was quick-paced, up and down the court, neither side wasting a lot of energy covering each other in anything more than the most token manner. It was tied at 59, but the Celtics came out with greater intensity in the third quarter and built a small lead, while the Cavaliers complained to the refs, allowing breakaway layups the other way.
When LeBron was replaced by Kyrie Irving with 3:18 left in the third quarter, the Cavaliers trailed 86-80. They were outscored 15-4 the rest of the quarter. The Celtics pushed the lead as far as 19 points early in the third before Irving began making up for his third quarter defensive deficiencies (Rondo had five assists and a hoop in that stretch).
As if to atone for his earlier mistakes, Irving made three consecutive three-pointers to start the fourth quarter off of pick-and-roll action, then drew a foul on a 3-pointer and converted three more free throws to close the lead to nine at 107-98.
The Cavs continued to chip away, and bench player Joe Harris not only hit a big three, but played tough defense on an Avery Bradley drive, leading him to lose the ball out of bounds late in the game. It was one of six turnovers by the self-destructing Celtics in the quarter, including consecutive traveling calls. After the Harris play, LeBron gave the Cavs the lead with a pretty basket and foul, which he converted for a two-point lead.
After the game Coach Blatt looked to the bright side, focusing on the victory and not the missteps that made it so difficult.
“Big win, great win for us,” Blatt told the team in the locker room afterwards. “ It gave us a chance to keep our momentum going. There are a lot of games during the season where you don’t have it for three quarters but you never give up. That’s what we did tonight, we never gave up and that’s great. Still lots of things we can do better. You know it, I know it. But I think we executed offensivly pretty much the whole night. As soon as we start defending we’re really going to be something.”
However, when that time might be is anyone’s guess. After the Cavaliers gave up 42 points to the Celtics in the 3rd quarter, it was Blatt looking for a bus, to his youth home in nearby Framingham, Massachusetts.
“I’ve been on that bus more than a few times in my life and I was looking for it,” Blatt told reporters after the game. “This team defensively is playing in spurts. They’re not playing consistently on that end of the floor. When we do we’ll have a chance to be very very good. Until we do we’re going to have to win games like this.”