BOSTON – So much for that uh, adjustment period for the Cleveland Cavaliers to integrate all their new players.
Cleveland was in midseason form, putting a damper of sorts on an otherwise festive mood in defeating Boston in convincing fashion, 121-99, on the day Celtics legend Paul Pierce’s jersey No. 34 was to be retired.
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LeBron James only played 28 minutes, but still managed a double-double of 24 points and 10 assists and came just two rebounds shy of what would have been a third straight triple-double.
The loss, combined with the Toronto Raptors' victory in Charlotte later Sunday night, dropped the Celtics (40-18) out of the top spot in the East for the first time since October. The Raptors (39-16) lead Boston by a half-game.
The Cavs, playing their first game with the new guys acquired at the trade deadline – George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. – executed at both ends of the floor with no signs of unfamiliarity.
Meanwhile, the Celtics looked and played overwhelmed in every way, prompting a small but noticeable chorus of boos for Boston in the early goings of the fourth quarter.
Kyrie Irving had decent numbers – 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting – but at no point was he able to elevate his play to a level the Celtics needed in order to get the win.
And as the game wore on, fans were eager for its completion if for no other reason than to bring on something positive, like Pierce’s jersey retirement celebration.
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Celtics coach Brad Stevens had talked about his team not playing as crisp as they need to, and how they tend to save their best play for after they get down big.
That wasn’t the case on Sunday as the Celtics came out playing with a level of aggression we usually don’t see until they fall into a double-digit hole.
Considering how much harder they were playing at the start of the game and still unable to put any real distance between themselves and the new-look Cavs, was not a good omen for what was to come.
With the score tied at 40 in the second quarter, the Cavs went on a 16-6 run.
Cleveland wasn’t done, leading by as many as 13 points in the first half before taking a comfortable 64-52 lead into halftime.
The second half saw Cleveland continue to surge ahead and emerge with a win that gives them the season series, 2-1.
While Sunday’s loss won’t necessarily be a factor if these two meet in the playoffs. But it does give the Celtics a better sense of what they will see if these two manage to face off in the postseason.
One thing is clear.
Boston has to play better, regardless of whether they have to face the Cavs again.