Boston Celtics

Revamped Cavs crush Celtics in first game all together

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USATSI

Revamped Cavs crush Celtics in first game all together

BOX SCORE

BOSTON — LeBron James quieted a Celtics crowd that came to celebrate Paul Pierce on Sunday, scoring 24 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds to give new-look Cleveland a 121-99 victory over Boston in an individual performance reminiscent of the rivalry’s heyday.

And this time, Pierce was sitting courtside in street clothes, unable to do anything about it.

James shook off a first-quarter leg injury to score 13 in the second quarter — eight of them during a 13-2 run that turned a one-point deficit into a double-digit lead. The Celtics made it 64-55 on the first basket of the third quarter but never got within 10 again.

As the Cavaliers opened a 27-point lead midway through the fourth, the crowd began chanting “We want Paul Pierce!” But he remained in his baseline seat, awaiting the postgame ceremony that would raise his No. 34 to the TD Garden rafters — the 23rd person in the history of the NBA’s most-decorated franchise to be so honored.

The current Celtics, who have spent much of the season in first place in the East, could have used him.

Terry Rozier scored 21 with nine assists and Kyrie Irving scored 18 against his former team before sitting out the fourth quarter as the game became a blowout. The Celtics have lost three of four to fall behind Toronto in the Eastern Conference playoff race; the Cavaliers, who have won three straight, are 5½ games behind Boston.

In their first appearances for Cleveland since being acquired at the trade deadline, Jordan Clarkson scored 17 and George Hill had 12 points.

Pierce watched the game from a baseline seat, under the basket where the Celtics scored 42 points in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the finals to clinch their 17th NBA championship. On the other side of the basket were former coach Doc Rivers and former teammates Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Antoine Walker.

Timeouts featured tribute videos from Rivers, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Pierce’s college coach, Roy Williams.

JAMES INJURY

James banged into Aron Baynes in the lane with about five minutes left in the first quarter and hobbled off the court, favoring his right leg. He came back in with nine minutes left in the half and hit a jumper to tie it 40-all before his outburst that helped the Cavs pull away.

He sat out the fourth quarter, losing the chance for an 11th triple-double this season, and third straight.

IT SUPPORT

The trades mooted a mini controversy over whether the Celtics would honor Isaiah Thomas in his return to Boston. A fan favorite during his two-plus seasons in green, Thomas was traded last summer in the deal that brought Irving to the Celtics.

Thomas balked at being recognized on his first visit back with the Cavaliers because he was injured. And Pierce balked at sharing the stage with him on Sunday, Cleveland’s only other trip to Boston.

But Thomas was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers at the deadline, meaning he isn’t scheduled to return to TD Garden this year.

SMART UPDATE

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Marcus Smart continues to recover from a lacerated right hand, which has kept him out since he cut his hand on broken glass at the team hotel on Jan. 24 and needed stitches to close the wound.

“Not going to expect to see him on Wednesday night,” Stevens said. “Hopeful that he will be back and ready to go after the All-Star break. But we’ll see.”

UP NEXT

Cavaliers: At Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

Celtics: Host the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.

Basketball Gods now know what they must give us for the 2018 NBA Finals

Basketball Gods now know what they must give us for the 2018 NBA Finals

OAKLAND -- After what occurred Saturday at Oracle Arena, 48 minutes crackling with playoff passion, featuring bravura performances from opposing MVP candidates, the basketball gods now know what must do.

They have to work whatever magic is required to give the world the Warriors vs. the Celtics in the NBA Finals.

We’ve had KD vs. LeBron, and it lasted five games, with Kevin Durant walking away last June with the Finals MVP trophy.

We have not yet had Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving, Celtics version. We got a glimpse Saturday and it was glorious, with Curry emerging victorious.

“It was playoff intensity, back and forth,” Curry said after scoring a season-high 49 points, embellished by eight 3-pointers, to lead the Warriors to a 109-105 victory.

Irving scored 37 points, making some incredible shots and dropping five triples in six attempts.

When Irving came out firing, 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the first quarter, giving the Celtics a 10-point lead, Curry responded with 13 in the first on 5-of-9 shooting.

And while Irving cooled a bit, making 8-of-13 shots over the final three quarters, Curry only turned up the heat. He scored 18 points in the third quarter, during which the Warriors took their first lead, and 15 more in the fourth, including six free throws inside the final 10.3 seconds to lock up the win.

“You’ve just got to sit back and enjoy the show,” Kevin Durant said of Curry.

“It was a great basketball game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It just felt like a playoff game. High-level stuff, great defense, both teams playing incredibly hard and smart. Not a lot of turnovers, with some tremendous individual performances; the guard play was just amazing, back and forth.”

[RECAP: Curry cooks Celtics for 49, Warriors hold on for 40th win of season]

With the exception of Curry, the Celtics and their No. 1 defense handled the Warriors well. Kevin Durant scored 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting. Klay Thompson was held to 7, on 3-of-12 shooting. Draymond Green was 4-of-11, Nick Young 0-of-3.

The Warriors and their No. 1 offense were forced to adjust on the fly, and that meant Curry dipping into his freestyle bag. They ran more isolation plays than usual because most of their movement was stifled by Boston’s defense. The Warriors managed but 19 assists, the lowest total of the season.

We’ve seen the Warriors-Cavaliers, in three consecutive Finals and twice in the regular season, and it’s evident the greatness of LeBron James is not enough to deliver a truly compelling series.

That matchup, barring Cleveland making a blockbuster move before the Feb. 8 trade deadline is played out. Drained of drama. It’s time to move on.

At this stage of the season, Warriors-Raptors would be more attractive than a fourth episode with the Cavs. There would at least be a sense of curiosity. And Toronto is a beautiful city.

But that series couldn’t begin to offer the plots and subplots that would come with Warriors-Celtics.

And while the Rockets would like to spoil any chance of the Warriors coming out of the Western Conference, neither of Houston’s stars, James Harden and Chris Paul, have mastered the craft playing in the postseason.

Boston would be fresh and brassy and, on the slight chance Gordon Hayward can return and be effective, particularly threatening. The Celtics are young but precocious and fearless.

As to whether they are ready, the defense is. This was the fifth time in six games they’ve held the Warriors below 46 percent from the field.

“I’m looking on the floor and I’m on a new team,” Irving said. “We just got (rookie) Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, and they’re just thrown in a high-level one-seed vs. one-seed type of battle. And it demands everything from you mentally, physically and you’ve got to bring it because you’re going against the champs.

“Being in Oracle, you know high level, they on their run, Steph’s being unbelievable and their crowd’s going crazy . . . it’s a lot to consider.”

Yet it’s something the basketball gods have to ponder.

"It was intense and it was hard-fought, all the way through, all 48 minutes; that’s what you expect in the playoffs,” Curry said.

“That’s a very good ball club,” Green said. “They’ve been on top of the East all year. They beat us on their home floor and they came in tonight ready to go.

“The intensity level was great. The energy in the building was great. It was a fun game to play in. It’s a team we know we may possibly see down the road.”

Make it happen, ladies and gentlemen. If you were paying attention Saturday, you understand why.

Gameday: Will Steph or Kyrie cook more in Oakland?

Gameday: Will Steph or Kyrie cook more in Oakland?

OAKLAND -- The Warriors on Saturday will try to do something they haven’t done in three years: beat the Boston Celtics in Oakland.

Pregame coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area, which will have postgame coverage immediately after the game. Tipoff at Oracle Arena is scheduled for 5:35.

The game provides a preview of a potential NBA Finals matchup. The Warriors (39-10), who last beat Boston at Oracle on Jan. 25, 2015, enter with a four-game lead over Houston in the Western Conference, while Boston (35-14) is up two games on Toronto in the East. Cleveland is six games back.

BETTING LINE

Warriors by 10.5

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving: Both point guards are All-Star perennials and in the MVP race. Each sets the temperature and tone for his team. Though neither played well when the teams met in November, Irving gained a slight edge because he had more assists and fewer turnovers. If Curry drains a couple 3-pointers early, the Celtics had better look out. The Warriors know to be wary of Irving if the game is close late and he has the ball. If offset each other, the Warriors should benefit.

INJURY REPORT

Warriors: F Kevin Durant (L foot soreness) is listed as probable. G Pat McCaw (mid-back strain) is listed as out. F Jordan Bell (L ankle inflammation) is listed as out. C Damian Jones is on assignment with the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors.

Celtics: F/C Al Horford (head) is listed as probable. F Gordon Hayward (L ankle rehab) and G Marcus Smart (R hand laceration) are listed as out.

LAST 10

Warriors: 8-2.

Boston: 6-4.

GAME OFFICIALS

Derrick Stafford (crew chief), Nick Buchert, Dedric Taylor

SERIES HISTORY

The Warriors lost the first meeting this season, 92-88, on Nov. 16 in Boston and have lost three of the last five meetings between the teams. The Warriors have lost the last two games at Oracle but are 4-3 against Boston in the Steve Kerr era.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

SECOND UNITS: Boston’s depth was hurt by Hayward’s injury and it’s starting to show, particularly on offense. The bench’s 101.3 offensive rating is 27th in the NBA. The true shooting percentage of 50.6 is last. When Irving is off the floor, Boston’s offensive rating is 97.2. It’s 86.4 for the month of January. The Celtics will have to defend like demons to offset that, and the offensive rating of the Warriors’ bench, 111.4, is tops in the league.

THE WARRIORS 1-4 PUNCH: This is the kind of game where the Warriors will try to seek out mismatches, which means they’re likely to utilize some high pick-and-roll action between Kevin Durant (the 4) and Curry (the 1). Though Warriors coach Steve Kerr doesn’t want to use it frequently, it’s a lethal tactic that puts even the smartest defenders in a quandary.

SMART’S ABSENCE: This is significant. Smart is Boston’s version of Andre Iguodala, except younger and with more brawn. At 6-4, 225 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, he’s terrific on the ball and in the passing lanes. He at various times would have defended both Klay Thompson and Curry. Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin likely will inherit those minutes, but neither can approach Smart’s physicality or wingspan.