The Celtics hit the halfway point in their season by beating the Cavaliers to move to 31-10. It was a rare occasion in the past month where Boston was playing on more rest and in better health than their opponents. The Cavs were finishing a back-to-back and so were without the returning Isaiah Thomas. They also saw Kevin Love sprain his ankle and then sit out most of the game. The Celtics took full advantage, getting contributions from up-and-down the roster in a game that wasn’t as close as the 102-88 final score.
The Boston crowd gave Isaiah a standing ovation between the 1st and 2nd quarters, as well as some nice applause when he came out from the locker room to join the bench, but he didn’t play. His long road to recovery is in the final stretch, but back-to-back games aren’t in the cards yet and Cleveland decided to have him play last night instead of tonight. He was the focus of a lot of the pregame attention and gave a nice interview to the press pool where he took a couple playful jabs at Marcus Smart and Danny Ainge but also spoke well of Boston and Brad Stevens.
— NBA (@NBA) January 4, 2018
Jae Crowder’s return was less enthralling despite the fact that he actually played 28 minutes. His long season continued as he misfired many times enroute to a 2-12 performance. He did grab nine rebounds but it was mostly ugly stuff. The Garden did play a brief tribute video to him during introductions and he got a warm ovation from the crowd but it was a tough night from that point.
The one former Celtics who had an okay night was Jeff Green. He struggled from the field but got to the free throw line and scored 13 points. In a thoroughly Jeff Green performance; he finished with 13/3/0 and just enough good stuff to make you think he’ll have a positive impact on the Cavs.
The one engagement that didn’t disappoint was the Cavs fan who proposed to his Celtics fan girlfriend at halftime and then, after she said yes, ripped off his LeBron jersey to don a Celtics hoodie.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown weren’t particularly efficient, but both had strong nights under the National TV lights. Tatum came out aggressive but couldn’t finish in the first half. He just rarely has a bad complete game and, true to form, found the range in the 3rd quarter on his way to 15 points. His 3PT shooting continues to cool off but he’s getting to the rim (though not always over it) and still looks smooth from the mid-range.
Jaylen did get above the rim with two loud dunks in that same 3rd quarter as Boston went cold from deep. Marcus Morris and Semi Ojeleye both had very rough nights on offense but they checked LeBron most of the game which freed Jaylen for other tasks. LeBron overpowers the young wing so that’s a good option for the playoffs. Aside from the dunks, Jaylen was a box score stuffer with a 14/8/4/2 line.
— NBA (@NBA) January 4, 2018
Kyrie Irving has been steadily increasing his usage rate as the year has progressed but with Cleveland committed to trapping him he reverted to his facilitator role from the beginning of the season. He only scored 11 point on 14 shots, but handed out six assists and collected nine rebounds. He did that in only 28 minutes as Stevens was once again able to limit his run, this time because the C’s had the game well in hand in the final frame.
It would have been fun to see Irving and Thomas match up but we’ll have to wait another month to hopefully get that. You can add Kyrie to the list of players who had quiet nights against their former team. That’s a change for the Celtics who have been on the end of more than their share of revenge games.
The Celtics bench has struggled to score for much of the season but found the range tonight. Terry Rozier led the team with 20 points on 8-12 shooting. He’s a streaky player but has been lighting it up for the past few games. If Tito is making shots it lifts the level of the whole team. The bench units can handle anything on defense but have too many nights where they can’t take advantage. Rozier being a scoring threat fixes a lot of that.
Marcus Smart also chipped in some early points starting 3-4 and getting up to 15 in total. Things weren’t so hot from there but his normal floor game and good defense kept things ticking over on a night where that was enough. When the Celtics lead a game for the final 40 minutes, Smart just needs to stay within himself and manage the flow. That’s not always his strong suit, but he did it well tonight.
Daniel Theis only played five minutes but deserves mention for canning two threes, including s step-back job. A lot of C’s were feeling themselves early on when they established the gap that was maintained all game. Blowouts over LeBron don’t come along very often for the Celtics; it was nice to not only get one tonight but have it be driven by so many different players.