Celtics regain control
Irving, Cavaliers stymied at end
CLEVELAND - The Celtics last night appeared as though they would pick up where they left off before the All-Star break.
But, despite an up-and-down performance, the Celtics were able to hold off the Cavaliers in an 86-83 win at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Celtics (16-17), who host Milwaukee tonight, snapped a five-game losing streak as their lockout-shortened season reached the halfway point.
“It was a win, that’s all it was for us,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “We’ll take the win, we needed the win. It’s a good way to end the losing streak and get the second half of the season going winning the game.
“But we have to do better than that. That was awful, the turnovers, just the sloppy play. I thought for most part we had the right spirit. I thought the turnovers broke our spirit - you could see it.’’
The Celtics shot 12 for 20 in the opening quarter, leading by as many as 16 points. But turnovers and slack defending allowed the Cavaliers to rally.
“The first quarter was beautiful,’’ Rivers said. “We put in what we worked on [Monday] and it looked great. And, then, it just went downhill from there.
“I thought our bench in the third quarter, they saved us. Avery Bradley, Chris Wilcox, Keyon Dooling - he didn’t play lot of minutes, but his minutes were huge - Mickael Pietrus, they saved us. And, then, our starters made enough plays down the stretch.’’
Most of the crucial plays were made by Kevin Garnett.
With the Cavaliers leading, 81-80, Garnett made a steal and found Ray Allen for a dunk, giving the Celtics an 82-81 lead with 48.6 seconds remaining. Then Garnett contested two Kyrie Irving drives, one after the Cavaliers retained possession following an official replay. With 3.9 seconds on the clock, Garnett rebounded his own miss, was fouled, and sank two foul shots for an 84-81 advantage.
Irving (24 points) converted two free throws with 3.5 seconds left, then Allen (22 points) restored the Celtics’ 3-point advantage before Anthony Parker missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“Kevin was great,’’ Rivers said. “I was worried, I thought we may have gone a little too hard [Monday]. But he was the anchor. I was upset the play before the last play, he should have been on the post and he was somewhere else - I wanted him to get the ball. But he’s just been so solid for us. We’ve got to go to Kevin when we have the advantage, all the time.’’
The Celtics committed nine of their 17 turnovers in the second quarter. Cleveland appeared to be gaining control as Omri Casspi’s jumper gave it a 60-55 lead with 3:31 left in the third quarter.
But the Celtics tied it as Bradley scored on a left-hand drive, then found Pietrus for a 3-pointer. And Garnett closed the quarter with two foul shots, then tied the score 59 seconds into the final quarter.
With mostly second-unit players on the court, the Celtics stayed in contention and also got into the bonus early in the fourth.
Then, the starters finished things off.
“We probably could have opened up the game if we took care of the ball,’’ Garnett said. “[It] wasn’t a good showing.
“Momentum is important for us right now. We’ve got to find a way to get it done. We’re playing every other day and this is going to be a grind right here, a true grind, physically. We’ve got to be into it and just be ready to hoop, man.’’
Rajon Rondo helped get the Celtics off to a fast start with six first-quarter assists. But Rondo finished scoreless and had difficulty keeping up with Irving, who scored 44 points in two previous games against the Celtics.
Paul Pierce finished with six turnovers and Rondo had five.
“We’re making it hard on ourselves, definitely, with turnovers,’’ Pierce said. “The positive thing about it, we stuck with it. Down the stretch we played outstanding defense, made key stops, and were able to get over the top.
“We just overpass sometimes, try to be over-unselfish, really sloppiness with the ball. But it’s something we’ve really got to concentrate on, especially myself and Rondo, doing a better job in that area.
“That’s the reason they got back in the game. We make stops and turn the ball over and they get back in the game, it makes it a dogfight down the stretch. Second half of this season, we’ve got to do a better job. Hopefully, this is just a little All-Star hangover we’ll get out of our system, and we’ll play better [tonight].’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.