Cavaliers comeback falls short losing to Celtics 86-83
BY EDDIE DILWORTH
After surprising many with their play in the first half of the NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were ready to begin the post-All-Star stretch on a positive note.
Tuesday night in Quicken Loans Arena, the Boston Celtics were singing a different tune. The Celtics (16-17) snuck out of Cleveland with an 86-83 victory after leading by as many as 16 early in the contest.
"That was a tough one to lose," Cavs head coach Byron Scott said. "I thought our guys really competed hard. Obviously, we didn't make enough shots."
After trailing by such a wide margin early, the Cavs (13-19) battled back and led 81-80 with 1:21 to play in the game. The Cavs one-point lead remained in tact with less than a minute to play, but after an amazing performance during All-Star Weekend and a catalytic showing against Boston, Cavs guard Kyrie Irving turned the ball over with 51.9 seconds to play.
Irving's turnover led to a wide-open Ray Allen dunk and the Celtics took an 82-81 lead with 48.6 to play. The Cavs were unable to immediately score after Allen's dunk and were forced to foul Kevin Garnett with 3.9 seconds remaining. Garnett converted both free throws to give the Celtics an 84-81 lead.
"It was costly, with the turnover that I had and we almost lost it again," Irving said after almost committing a second turnover late. "Those two plays were key going down the stretch for us that I kind of messed up. On to the next game, but those last two plays were a great opportunity."
After Garnett's free throws, Irving was immediately fouled on the next possession. The Cavs rookie made both freebies with 3.5 seconds to play, bringing the Cavs back within one. Nevertheless, Allen sank two free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining and the Celtics led 86-83.
Cavs guard Anthony Parker had a three-point attempt at the buzzer to tie, but the ball clanged off the front rim as the final horn sounded.
"A couple of turnovers in the fourth quarter really hurt us," Scott said. "I loved the effort and as I told them after the game, we have to continue to play that hard if not harder."
Irving was the main reason the Cavs crept back in the contest. He finished with a game-high 24 points and added four rebounds and three assists.
"We've had a couple of close fourth quarter during the season," Irving said. "Some of them we finished out and some we haven't. It's a learning experience for us going forward as we all continue to get better."
In the third quarter, Irving conjured a performance similar to the one he had in the Rising Stars Challenge over the weekend. In the Challenge, which featured first and second year NBA up-and-comers, Irving went 8-for-8 from three-point range and collected MVP honors.
Just like Team Shaq, the Celtics were Irving's latest victim. The Cavs trailed 46-41 early in the third quarter when Irving drained a 3-pointer to bring the Cavs within two. When he converted a layup seconds later, the Cavs had tied the game at 46 after trailing by as many as 16 in the first half. Irving totaled 13 points in the third quarter, helping the Cavs secure a 66-64 lead when the period ended.
"He's terrific, I'll tell you," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said. "His (ball) handling skills and his moxie in the fourth quarter, I don't know if we've ever seen it for a rookie. It's pretty amazing what he's doing."
Irving wasn't the only Cavs rookie that stood-out in the Rising Stars Challenge and against Boston. Thompson, who led Team Shaq with 20 points against Irving and Team Chuck, finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds against Boston. In the second half, Thompson also locked up Celtics forward Kevin Garnett defensively.
Garnett had 12 points at halftime, but finished the contest with 18 points.
"I'm just playing hard," Thompson said after recording his second consecutive double-double. "Guys are coming off the All-Star break either in shape or not and I want to come in and play active. It wasn't enough to get the win, but we've got to bounce back and go play Linsanity."
The Cavs play the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden tomorrow, but Scott has been pleased with how his rookie standouts have played so far this season.
"We expect both of these guys (Irving and Thompson) to continue to progress nicely and then go far," Scott said. "Obviously, we've already talked about (in) the beginning of the season that we feel our future as an organization is very bright."
The Cavs appeared to experience an All-Star Weekend hangover early in the game. Cleveland trailed 28-15 after the first quarter, in which the Cavs shot just 29 percent from the field. Boston seemed to start the second half of the NBA season with purpose, shooting a blistering 60 percent in the first period.
When Kevin Garnett converted two free throws with 9:56 to play until halftime, the Cavs trailed 33-18 and the Celtics were imposing their will. Cleveland, however, closed the second quarter 20-10 run to only trail by seven at the half.
"We just got more aggressive," Scott said. "We started to be much more aggressive like we should have started the game and I thought in the beginning of the game we kind of let them run around freely and just run their offense and do what they wanted to do."
Allen led Boston with 22 points. Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass each contributed 12 points to the Celtics cause.
Aside Irving and Thompson, Ramon Sessions (13 points) and Omri Casspi (10 points) were the only other Cavaliers to reach double figures.
Cavs guard Anthony Parker returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with a strained back. He ended the night with one point and five assists.
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