It’s fun playing the “who will show up” game with the Cleveland Cavaliers when three of your star players (I’m including Anderson Varejao because it seems he has been missing for so long that most people forget to add him to the extended list of injuries). When the Boston Celtics game to town to play the Wine and Gold, everyone had a fair chance of guessing if anyone at all would help the Cavaliers get out of their fifth slump of losing more than four games in a row this season.
After getting off to a sluggish start that included members of the Celtics tearing through the lane and getting easy buckets, Boston was out to an early 12-9 lead when Cleveland called their first timeout so Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson could collect themselves. Things didn’t finish as well as Coach Byron Scott discussed in the huddle, and that was due to the poor shooting from the struggling shooting guards. Wayne Ellington (1-of-6), Daniel Gibson (0-of-1) and C.J. Miles (1-of-3) – all who have played ineffective basketball since Dion Waiters went out – were all hard to watch in the first quarter and were too predictable with their shot selection.
The first quarter ended with a Marreese Speights’ buzzer-beater two pointer being waved off after referees took a long time making a call on the play. Cleveland was only down by six points after the first 12 minutes, which in my opinion was a victory for this team who struggled immensely from the field from the start. Both the Cavaliers and the Celtics made seven shot attempts in the first frame, but it was Boston’s ability to get to the line late that gave them the advantage.
Once the second quarter began, it looked like the same old story meaning that the Cavs would be in for a long night after some cold shooting. An 11-5 run spanning the first four-plus minutes of play resulted in another Byron Scott timeout. A nice defensive stand that cut Boston’s lead back to six was just what Cleveland needed to get back into the game with their best healthy player shockingly underperforming. With Kevin Garnett out and the offensive success that Tristan Thompson has had this season against Boston (averaging 16.0 points).
Thompson finished the half scoreless, but Cleveland had narrowed the gap to just a one-point Boston lead. Both teams are on different ends of the spectrum of the NBA world, but injury problems have plagued the Celtics on the Cavaliers in two very different seasons for these teams. Boston, with their age, seems to be heading toward a downward trend, while Cleveland looked like one of the most improved teams for a short minute when Kyrie Irving and Waiters were both healthy. Out of the four players from the last two draft classes, Tyler Zeller was the player to show up against a depleted Boston frontcourt and with Irving and Waiters in their suits and ties.
Zeller had one of his best performances in a half of basketball all season, balancing for nine points (4-of-5 from the field) and eight rebounds – very Tristan-Thompson like numbers at the half. With the team on a five-game losing streak, who would’ve thought the awkward center from North Carolina – who has been beat up all season long – would’ve willed his team to a hot second half start.
After going on a tear led by Ellington (!), Cleveland took the lead and extended it to 12 points after going on a 21-8. Although Scott was not happy with the team’s performance down the stretch in the third quarter, the team still came out firing in the fourth to try and end their five-game skid. In fact, both teams were fighting to end losing streaks of the same amount. The question was, who wanted it more? The Cavaliers’ playoff hopes have been lost for sometime and Boston, despite a tough stretch lately, looks to be safe with securing a spot in the postseason. Different reasons to win and different motivation to as well.
As if this game couldn’t get any more weird with the players who were helping will the Cavs to victory, Miles and Gibson hit threes to open up the fourth and a 79-70 lead. Boston looked tired and confused, but we’ve seen meltdowns worse than this from Cleveland this season – would it happen again?
With the lead up to 14 points at one point in the waning minutes of the game, Boston fought back to keep the game within reach. With under three minutes to go in the game and the Celtics on the verge of building up a big run with their inside game, the lead was down to six and it looked like the same meltdown that we have known the Cavaliers to have.
With a Cleveland turnover with less than two minutes to go, the defense needed to step up. Once again Boston went to the hole and Jeff Green finished with an and-one drive, narrowing the lead to one point. Shaun Livingston came up with a block on Green and Cleveland played solid defense on Boston’s final possession to try and close out the Celtics with less than 10 seconds left on the clock and up by just one point.
But Jeff Green, who had 21 points, five rebounds and five assists, did what he had done all night and drove down the lane to beat the Cavs at the buzzer, 92-91. The unlikely heroes — Zeller and Ellington — showed up in opposite halves, resulting in a loss.