BOSTON – The shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, had their work cut out for them Wednesday night when they took on a healthy, well-rested Boston Celtics team in a hostile, playoff-like environment at TD Garden.
Judging by the outcome, however, one would have guessed that the teams’ roles had been reversed.
Cleveland, playing without iron man Tristan Thompson (thumb injury) for the first time in more than five seasons, found a way to overcome each challenge thrown its way, as it downed the red-hot Celtics convincingly by a score of 114-91.
The Cavs entered the contest with a 1-9 record when playing on the second night of a back-to-back away from home, but they came out of the gate with incredible energy that the Celtics couldn’t match.
Even without Thompson, the most productive rebounder on the team, Cleveland managed to outrebound the Celtics 19-11 during the first quarter, including an 8-3 advantage on the offensive glass.
Despite the early rebounding deficiency, the Celtics actually held a 20-19 advantage after the first frame. But then Cleveland’s offense erupted for 38 points during the second quarter, and Boston could not respond as it scored just 22 points of its own during that span.
“As a team I feel like they came out playing harder than us, with a purpose,” Avery Bradley reflected after the game. “At the beginning of the game we just dug a hole for ourselves. We weren’t playing the right way, and it’s hard to come back from that.”
The Celtics were hoping to channel last month’s effort against Cleveland, when they played with high energy for a full 48 minutes and held off the defending NBA champs, 103-99.
The Cavs, however, outplayed Boston in virtually every category this time around, led by a 36-point, 10-rebound, six-assist effort from LeBron James.
“We didn’t rebound and we didn’t stop them in transition,” said Isaiah Thomas, who logged 26 points and six assists during the loss. “Those are key things playing against those guys and we did that the previous game. We rebounded pretty well, we limited their transition points and we showed five guys when they played isolation ball. Tonight it was like guys were just on an island, and when LeBron James or Kyrie Irving get onto an island, it’s tough to guard them.”
Boston’s inability to defend Cleveland’s offensive approach was eye-opening to the players, especially with the Playoffs right around the corner.
“It just showed that we need to stick together,” said Bradley, who returned to action after missing two games because of an illness. “We need to play with more purpose. We understand that we need to play better – better than we played tonight. We have to move the ball, we have to trust each other and we have to talk on both ends of the floor. Those are things we know. We just need to move on and focus on the next game.”
Wednesday’s game was one of the more frustrating all-around efforts for the C’s this season. They entered the contest tied with Cleveland for the top spot in the East, and, in Isaiah Thomas’ words, “We laid an egg.”
But he knows there is no time to lament. Boston still has four games remaining on its regular season schedule, starting with Thursday night’s matchup against the Hawks in Atlanta.
“We didn’t take advantage of the opportunity that we had tonight, but there’s still games left,” Thomas acknowledged. “We just need to worry about what we can control, and we definitely gotta bounce back tomorrow.”