Boston Celtics 103
Cleveland Cavaliers 99
Wednesday night provided the Cleveland Cavaliers with a variety of bullet points primed for a News and Notes press release. The game would be their first in a stretch that will see the Cavs play 12 of 16 games on the road. It would serve as the debut for their new reserve point guard, a three-time All-Star in Deron Williams. And it would also be a matchup between the Eastern Conference’s top two teams as the No. 1-ranked Cavs traveled to Boston to face the No. 2-ranked Celtics who were four games back in the standings.
Heading into the night, there were no shortage of pieces trying to pitch the Celtics as a team that could upset the Cavs and be the representatives in the NBA Finals. What unfolded would be arguably the Cavaliers’ most entertaining regular season game of the year, a slate that not only includes a Christmas Day win over the Golden State Warriors, but that back-and-forth, 275-point dual against the Wizards just a few weeks back. A tight game with multiple lead changes throughout, rarely has a game been entirely encapsulated by its final two minutes. With the TD Garden crowd growing louder by the second, the final 2:06 of Wednesday night’s thriller included six lead changes and four three-pointers. Had Williams—playing crunch-time minutes despite it being his first game with his new team—hit his game-winning attempt from the corner with five seconds remaining, not only would it have been a fifth three, but it may have entire altered the final outcome.
Nevertheless, the short-handed Cavaliers dropped a thriller on the road against one of the conference’s best who happened to be playing at full strength. It was undoubtedly a playoff environment and will lead to a slew of columns attempting to use one night as a referendum on the Cavs’ future, but ask anyone in the Cavaliers’ locker room following the loss and there is very little concern. Forget for a second that the team is without an All-Star in Kevin Love and their starting shooting guard in J.R. Smith… Ty Lue gave a guy who hasn’t played since February 15th 24 minutes of playing time, into the final seconds of the game. The defensive schemes were nothing like what will be deployed in the playoffs, with very little physical play, effectively letting Isaiah Thomas drop 31. And the rotations will be much different. While it’s a good problem to have, we could reasonably expect to see games where players like Iman Shumpert are DNP-CD simply due to numbers.
So even though the Cavaliers lost a tough one on Wednesday night, a game that could have all but locked up homecourt advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs, all is not lost. Mike Brown used to use the term “high-level practices” to discuss late-season games heading into the playoffs. While it would be nice for the wine and gold to get that No. 1 seed, no one appears to be concerned about any of the final scores that may not end in the Cavs’ favor.
7: LeBron James notched his seventh triple-double of the season thanks to your run-of-the-mill 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists to go with a steal, a block, and three three-pointers. While he had a few points of concern—slipping early in the first quarter and grabbing his ankle, or falling out of bounds later in the game, landing in the lap of Bill Belichick—James did it all. Ferocious dunks, timely passes, solid defense, you name it. Would it have been nice to have him play fewer than 40 minutes? Sure. But if we’ve learned anything, LeBron James is a machine who continues to wow viewers well into his 30s.
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 2, 2017
2.44: The number of miles James is credited with running on Wednesday night, tying teammate Tristan Thompson for the game-high mark.1
5-of-10: On the cover, Derrick Williams’ night seems to be just what the Cavs need from a reserve wing who recorded 13 points on the night. The issue here, of course, is that Williams was 4-for-4 in the first half, making the $100 million Al Horford look like he was the one on a 10-day contract. Unfortunately, that means he was 1-of-6 in the second half, coming back down to earth a bit. Regardless, its to the point where the Cavs will have trouble keeping the 25-year-old beyond this season. While playing alongside LeBron James helps anyone’s game, don’t be shocked if the former No. 2 pick uses this as a launching pad to get back into relevance.
5: The number of Boston Celtics players to take more field goal attempts than Al Horford who finished with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting. Does this seem odd to anyone else?
3-of-15: The combined shooting of Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and Kyle Korver. Korver has been Mr. Automatic since joining the Cavs, so we can give him a pass. Frye and Shumpert have been less than their usual selves as of late and it’s not the best time to have this happen as both have been lofted into the starting lineup due to injuries. Worse, Shumpert and Frye both shot 25 percent on uncontested shots. The Cavs as a team shot 40 percent on said shots, while Boston was at 45. There’s your game.
2: The number of testicles draped across the back of Boston guard Terry Rozier following this dunk by Richard Jefferson.
Richard Jefferson is 23 years old pic.twitter.com/iSnVuedtzW
— RT Ohio (@RT_Ohio) March 2, 2017
Not only was the dunk #SCTop10 worthy, it resulted in a technical foul and Jefferson running back down the floor as if he didn’t just teabag the neck of a grown man in mid-air, and this quote following the game. Wins all around.
33: The number of days until these two teams meet again. Stay woke.
- Courtesy of NBA.com player tracking data. [↩]