No matter which year it is or who is on the team, Paul Pierce owns the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wednesday night was no different, as the future Hall of Famer absolutely could not miss from the field. He was red hot from the start, and finished 13-of-16 from the field (6-of-7 from three). The Truth recorded his first 40-point performance of the season, and buried the Cavaliers after missing his first two shots of the game. He went on to score 10 points over the final five minutes in the fourth quarter, and shot 92.9 percent from the field the rest of the way. The Celtics shot 59.7 percent from the field as a team.
If it wasn’t Pierce making the Cavs spin around in confusion, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was glad to run circles around the Wine and Gold. Rondo only began the second half with two assists, but it was his ability to expose Kyrie Irving’s defensive weakness with his athleticism allowed the cocky floor general to have free range on Irving. The Celtics starting point guard scored 12 of his 20 points in the first 12 minutes, which helped jumpstart a Boston offense that had lost their last three games. In those contest, the C’s had scored less than 90 points.
That didn’t stop them from attacking an Anderson Varejao-less Cavalier offense, as the Celtics snapped their losing streak with a 103-91 victory over the hapless Cavs. Although Boston snapped their skid, Cleveland continued theirs, extending it to five games. That means the Cavaliers have had losing streaks of five games or more three times in this young 27-game season.
Despite Pierce and Rondo attacking the Cavalier defense, which featured rookie Tyler Zeller in the middle in place of the injured Varejao, Cleveland was able to hang around for the most part. It was the third quarter, in which the Cavs went down by 20 points, where Pierce added 17 of his 40 points in his eight minutes of play. With 3:15 to go in the third frame, the C’s extended the lead to 20. Their biggest lead of the night didn’t last for long, as Irving scored nine of his 22 points to end the quarter to cut down the lead to 82-72.
The fourth quarter was promising at first, and the Cavaliers went on an 8-0 run to start the final 12 minutes of play. However, Irving was nonexistent from the nine-minute mark until 3:42 where he hit his second of two free throws. The Wine and Gold didn’t get their fourth quarter explosion from the former Duke point guard that they had last time they visited TD Garden, and with the Boston bench struggling, it was the perfect opportunity for one of those times.
That’s where my problem with this loss begins. My second problem, though, has to do with Tyler Zeller’s defense. In taking the starting job in place of Varejao, Zeller had a career-high 20 points. But he only managed to corral three rebounds, being outrebounding by Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles. Both teams totaled 35 boards on the night, and the Cavs needed Zeller to be the presence in the middle, especially against such a poor rebounding team in the Celtics.
But Irving not being able to turn it on in the final frame like he is usually able to made this game unwinnable in the fourth quarter. His defense is a nagging problem and premier point guards have exposed him since his admission into the NBA. It’s all fun and games when Kyrie can put up 30 points, but when his opposition puts up the same amount on him, what good does that do? When Irving can’t get things going in the fourth, this becomes even more of a problem. Seeing how frustrated he was after the loss to the Toronto Raptors, I don’t see things getting better until our best player learns to shut down the player who is across from him. Point guards such as Jose Calderon (23 points), Monta Ellis (33) and Russell Westbrook (27) have been the leading scorers in games in which Kyrie is defending them for most of the way.
Kyrie and the Cavaliers will try and shut down the Indiana Pacers offense when they come to the Q on Friday. If the world truly is coming to an end, we will know once Luke Walton enters double digits in scoring.