The Cleveland Cavaliers found themselves at the wrong side of a 120-113 final score on the second half of a back-to-back road trip.
Falling to 13-11 on the season is a tough result for the Cavs after a 3-game win streak to finally reclaim a top-six seed in a brutally competitive Eastern Conference. As the Cavaliers continue to suffer from the injury bug, Evan Mobley's absence with knee soreness took a critical two-way threat out of the rotation for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers couldn't keep pace with the Celtics
It is near impossible to beat a team who goes perfect from the free throw line with 26 attempts. Conversely, the Cavaliers only found themselves at the line a handful of times, going 6-of-9 on foul shots. The Cavs had a valiant effort on both ends of the court, but the physical Celtics were able to maintain and remain undefeated at home with an 11-0 record at TD Garden.
Cleveland did not go down quietly, as Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell combined for 55 points, the most of any two players in the game. Their efforts were not without help, as Jarrett Allen (14) and Max Strus (17) contributed in scoring as much as they could. Their 14 combined rebounds also kept the Cavs in the game until a late Celtics long range barrage decimated Cleveland's fleeting hopes.
Regardless of the loss, Cleveland's backcourt found open shots time and time again versus two All-Defensive level guards in Jrue Holiday and Derrick White. From the opening tip, both Cavs guards searched for poor rotations and punished them instantly. Allen and Dean Wade served as the opening frontcourt with Evan Mobley out, setting screens and filling driving lanes to force these rotation mistakes.
In the first three quarters, Cleveland answered every blow the Celtics gave, building a quick 15-point lead in the first quarter. But, they fell out of their rhythm in the final period as the Celtics consistently fought to get inside the paint and the free throw line.
Although the final score was not what the Cavaliers wanted, their energy and effort was on full display. With a below-average team 3-point shooting percentage this season (34.1) entering Boston, the Cavs knocked down a team season-high 19-of-45 from deep.
In his postgame interview, Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff pointed out the discrepancy in free throw attempts, citing his team's interior scoring efforts that did not lead to extra opportunities from the line nearly as much as their counterpart. Throughout this season, the Cavaliers have the eighth-highest points in the paint per game (53) compared to Boston's 26th place 45.2 per game. In this game, both teams scored a total of 34 points in the paint, below both of their averages.
This type of free throw imbalance is not likely to emerge every night, meaning the positives of Cleveland's game can lead to wins in the future.
There are positives shown from this game in spite of the less-than-desirable final score. Up against the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers entered this back-to-back road game with an intensity they have struggled to display in the early minutes for most of the year. Over the last few games, Cleveland is looking to find their shots and swinging the ball to the open man at every opportunity. This has led to a balanced offensive attack, allowing the team's non-star players ideal chances throughout the night.
Since joining the Cavs, Max Strus has been a welcomed sight every game, adding a long range threat to the starting wing spot that was sorely missed last season. His five 3-pointers gave a needed surge for Cleveland, especially alongside his nine rebounds and three assists. Additionally, Caris LeVert returned to the court on a minutes restriction after missing a few games with knee soreness. LeVert is Cleveland's lead bench scorer, adding 11 points tonight in 23 minutes.
In his postgame interview, Caris LeVert noted lackluster defense rotations and sluggish play down the stretch by the Cavs as a major factor in the outcome. Both LeVert and Strus also commented the Cavaliers need to do better at penetrating and defending the interior, forcing teams to give them extra shots from the free-throw line while cutting down on their own unnecessary fouls.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will have an opportunity to respond on Thursday with a second game in a row against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Adding Evan Mobley to the available players in addition to adjustments in their gameplan, the Cavaliers can redirect their course in the latter half of their long east coast road trip.,