Not so fast
Cavaliers put the brakes on sluggish Celtics
CLEVELAND — The Celtics were force-fed a valuable lesson in humility last night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Celtics arrived in Cleveland still buzzing from their impressive and emotional victory over the new-look Miami Heat Tuesday night, and believing a mediocre effort against a lesser team would be enough.
And deep into the third quarter, they were correct. The Celtics dominated the first few minutes of the second half, built an 11-point lead, and waited for the LeBron James-less Cavaliers to fold. But in the final 15 minutes of the game, the Celtics’ arrogance came back to haunt them.
The predominantly jump-shooting Cavaliers began finding a rhythm. Daniel Gibson, relegated to a bench player the last two years, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers. And finally, the Celtics lost their composure and eventually the game, 95-87, in front of a sellout crowd of 20,562 eager to see the Cavaliers move on without James.
It wasn’t that the Cavaliers were that good, rather the Celtics were outworked, outhustled, and then began barking at officials. The meltdown began with 8:32 left. Nate Robinson drove to the basket against Ryan Hollins and was called for a technical for kneeing Hollins in the groin.
Shaquille O’Neal claimed he tried to explain to referee Bob Delaney what Robinson did, and ended up becoming the first Celtic to get hit with a “respect for the game’’ technical. Gibson hit both free throws, and Antawn Jamison followed with consecutive buckets against a disheveled defense for an 82-79 Cleveland lead with 7:42 remaining.
Later, Kevin Garnett knocked the ball away from Gibson with one second left on the 24-second clock and the Cavaliers leading, 86-84. In a play that capped the Celtics’ collapse, Anthony Parker caught an inbounds pass, pivoted, dribbled, and released a shot, all in one second according to the clock operator. He drained a 3-pointer for an 89-84 lead.
“That was the longest second in NBA history,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “Somebody didn’t push that button quick enough.’’
Said Ray Allen: “I just assumed the horn was going to go off.’’
The Celtics were done after that. They missed open shots. They couldn’t make an entry pass. Their frustration mounted. Afterward, the Celtics realized they had been burned by their own delusions of grandeur. They took a team minus its franchise player lightly, and the same exaggerated self-opinion that plagued them last season against lesser teams returned.
“You have to play four quarters,’’ Allen said. “It’s opening night for them. I just think we took them too lightly. We didn’t continue to execute and do the things we’re capable of doing for the entirety of the game. A call doesn’t go our way and then the game was tight and ended up going in their favor.’’
It was an embarrassing loss for the Celtics, who played brilliantly against the Heat, yet looked lethargic and uninterested during long stretches last night. The Big Three combined to shoot 12 for 33 from the field, and 1 for 9 in the fourth quarter.
Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal combined for 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 10 fouls in 33 minutes. Rajon Rondo led Boston with 18 points, and when he leads the team in scoring, that’s usually not a good sign. It indicated the Celtics had no consistent scorer down the stretch, and they spent the fourth quarter passing up good shots.
“I know at times we make it look easy, but it’s not,’’ Garnett said. “I’ve been playing a long time and I’ve got to make better decisions, and some of the basketball plays I make, Doc gives me the freedom to do that, and I’ve just got to get better with it. I take full responsibility for it.
“I’m not going to talk about how we got in [to Cleveland] late and all this other stuff that comes with the league, because those are bailouts. But it is some key components, which sometimes make the game more difficult without even playing the game. We’re not the only team that deals with it.
“Coming on a back-to-back to a home opener to a team that’s trying to prove something to the league, to a city that’s behind this team, and the energy, it’s not an easy place to play.’’
Rivers already has seen enough in two games to determine that the Celtics are a very good team, but lack consistency.
“When we got a lead, you could see us relax, you could feel it,’’ he said. “It’s more the mental toughness part as a group. I didn’t like the way we played for a lot of the game. We’re a better team than that.’’