July 29, 2014

Celtics 103, Cavs 100: Another narrow last-minute loss

waiters sullingerHow Cleveland can it get? Hours after suspending center Andrew Bynum indefinitely, the Cavs mounted a 20-point comeback only to fall flat on their face in the last minute.

The Boston Celtics escaped for the 103-100 Saturday afternoon victory at home. Their hot shooting in the second quarter gave them a huge lead that lasted throughout. It got close late however, and after a few Celtics airballs, they relied upon a stop inside the paint of Dion Waiters within the last 10 seconds. The Cavs then failed to foul until one second was left. Earl Clark was unable to get off a final shot.

It was a weird game to cap off a peculiar day in Cleveland sports. How strange, you ask? An odd fourth quarter lineup of Kyrie Irving-Jarrett Jack-Dion Waiters-Anthony Bennett was responsible for the huge comeback. Yeah, Anthony Bennett. Here are more notes about matinee basketball in Boston:

Anthony Bennett played most of the fourth quarter … and wasn’t that terrible? Sure, throughout his 19 minutes – his most in a month – he had his fair share of his usual turnovers and missed long twos. But he was a +9 overall! He took a charge, played tight defense at the end, grabbed his own miss for a putback and hammered home another offensive rebound dunk. Defense and hustle! Look at that! There’s some validity of wanting Bennett to get Alonzo Gee’s minutes in the rotation consistently now and letting him work through his issues. Gee was a DNP-CD for the second straight game.

Remember the days when Mike Brown first discovered using a three-guard lineup? That seems to be the norm nowadays. Irving-Jack-Waiters was his three-guard rotation du jour today in crunch time. We’ve also seen Matthew Dellavedova in the mix quite a bit too, but he played just five minutes. This is what life is like without a legitimate small forward, as Clark and Bennett are more regularly being used as small ball 4s. C.J. Miles is a virtual non-factor right now, even though he starts. It’s strange.

Anderson Varejao got the start at center and played his usual 29 minutes. The biggest benefactor of Bynum’s absence, however, was backup Tyler Zeller, who played a season-high 22. The bench let up Boston’s big second quarter run, but Zeller had some decent plays besides that. Varejao and Zeller switched back-and-forth with the fourth-quarter lineup. Zeller finished with a game-high 10 rebounds. He matched up well against the Celtics undersized front court and he has played efficiently in his sparse minutes throughout the season. He deserves to be getting 15-20 minutes nightly now.

Kyrie Irving, somehow again, had a quiet 32-point performance. Shockingly, it was the first 30-point game against the Boston Celtics this season. Irving was 13-for-22 from the field and 4-for-6 from three. But the post-game radio talk will be about how he didn’t have the ball in his hands on that final possession. Still again, on the list of all the items to blame for the latest Cavs loss, Irving’s play is way, way at the bottom.

Entering today, Cleveland’s defensive efficiency was way, way worse on the road than at home. On the road, they allowed 108.2 points per 100 possessions. At home, 100.2. That’s practically the difference between the NBA’s worst defense and a mediocre one. That’s hard to easily explain away. Sometimes, this looks like an abysmal defensive roster. As Ben asked on Twitter, who’s the best defensive guard anyway? Hard to imagine how they’re even a mediocre defensive team at home somehow.

If I was starting a team from scratch and had unlimited resources, Brad Stevens might be No. 1 on my coaching search. Look at Boston’s roster. Check it again. They had several blooper-worthy players during today’s game. There’s really not a whole lot going on with this Celtics team, even if Rajon Rondo comes back sometime soon. But Stevens has them playing like an Eastern Conference playoff team. They’re only one-half game behind Toronto in the even more terrible Atlantic Division. Xavier product Jordan Crawford seems to love to terrorize the Cavs.

What is it with Brandon Bass three-pointers? They seem to only happen at home against the Cavaliers in really terrible offensive possessions. It’s a weird thing. FOX Sports Ohio showed the clips a few times. Bass is now 2-for-18 in his career from behind the line. He’s a nice mid-range shooter usually, but what.

I could see how Omer Asik might fit on either of these two teams right now. I wrote about Asik trade rumors last week. I really like his game as a solid defensive-focused starting center. Logically, it would make sense for the Cavs to see what they have with more minutes for Tristan Thompson and Zeller. But Boston? They’ve got Bass, Jared Sullinger, Kris Humphries and Kelly Olynyk as their bigs. Yikes. It will be fascinating to see if these two teams continue to be involved in those talks.

So yeah, I’m not all that disappointed in today’s performance. It’s a weird feeling. Today’s a strange day. The Cavaliers again looked like a terrible, terrible basketball team for three quarters. They allowed Boston to shoot 65% in the second! They got out-rebounded by that bad frontcourt. And yet, they still could have easily won this game. Frustrating, yet so very Cleveland.

Positives going forward: Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller could be useful players this season. At one point recently, neither were in the rotation. There are worse things than a 10-19 team seeing what they have from their youngsters and making that work. The Cavs remain just two games out of the East’s No. 8 seed. They’ll host Golden State tomorrow night at The Q.

Photo: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

  • Lunch

    “If I was starting a team from scratch and had unlimited resources, Brad Stevens might be No. 1 on my coaching search.”

    Hard to say if I can agree with you. The Celtics have a slightly more experienced team than the Cavs at the moment. I’m not sure if Brad Stevens could do any better than Mike Brown right now.

  • mgbode

    given their youth and penchant for losing (instead of winning) close games, this Cavs team is the Kardiac Arrest Kids

  • mgbode

    and Pops is the obvious answer anyway. given his age, he’d need a protege, but you want Pops even for a short while if at all possible.

  • THE_DDOJSIOC

    I get that the Cavs have been caught in a soul-swallowing morass since Voldemort made his decision, and a culture of losing can become seemingly insurmountable. However, what does sneaking into the playoffs as an eighth seed accomplish? We’ve all had more than enough of our fair share of #TankStrong speak, but what other path leads us from ruin? Dumb luck is the only answer I can conjure, and us WFNY faithful are in dire need of it. Why not continue to stack the deck (in terms of the lottery) in our favor?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The Cavaliers have way more talent and frankly Varejao has more experience in the playoffs then just about any other current Celtics player. Rondo would be equal but since he’s still out and hasn’t played a game it’s hard to count him.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This game was lost in the first half when the Cavaliers sleep walked their way to a double digit deficit. They really picked it up in the second particularly finally being able to shoot but this team is Irving and whoever else decides they want to play for a game.

    That and watching this team not execute is getting old. That three attempt at the end was absolutely horrible. Either the play or the execution and watching them not foul as the clock ticked down to almost zero was comical.