CLEVELAND – Even with a healthy roster, the Boston Celtics would have had their hands full in knocking off the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Q Arena.
No Al Horford.
No Jae Crowder.
Regardless of who suits up for the Celtics, their effort will not be questioned.
And they once again delivered a gritty performance in rallying from 20 points down in second half to within five points in the fourth quarter.
But the Cavaliers proved to be too much when it mattered most as they held on for a 128-122 win over the Celtics.
Cavaliers 128, Celtics 122
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After Avery Bradley cut Cleveland’s lead to 109-104 with less than six minutes to play, the Cavs scored four quick points that seemed to stymie whatever momentum the Celtics had.
But the Celtics weren’t about to call it a night just yet, especially rookie Jaylen Brown.
Making his first NBA start filling in for an injured Jae Crowder, Brown had a career-high 17 points which included a fourth quarter 3-ball that cut Cleveland’s lead to 113-107.
Boston refused to go away as they began to get into a game of swapping baskets which is not what they needed.
Ultimately the Cavaliers just had too much offensive firepower in the game's final minutes in order for Boston to make a full comeback.
When the NBA schedule came out, this was viewed as one of the premier games in the East, a potential Eastern Conference preview.
But without two of Boston’s key starters, the big-time matchup so many anticipated never came to fruition.
And what folks were left with was a Celtics team, scrappy as ever, fighting to just stay within striking distance of a Cavaliers team that is playing great basketball in this first month of the season.
Boston’s injuries led to rookie Brown making his first NBA start.
Brown was actually one of the better performers for Boston, which is saying a lot considering he spent most of the time trying to defend LeBron James.
Taken with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, Brown did a surprisingly solid job defensively to start the game against James who was scoreless during Brown's first stint guarding him. But James eventually got the best of him and the rest of the Celtics as he finished with a double-double of 30 points and 12 assists.
But James knew on this night, knowing how undermanned the Celtics were, there was no need for him to exert his will on the game.
Instead, he passed that torch along to his teammates like Kyrie Irving (23 points) and Kevin Love (26 points).
Boston kept things mildly interesting in the third quarter, seemingly one big shot or defensive stop away from putting a little pressure on the Cavaliers.
But in each instance, Cleveland got exactly what it needed.
Defensive rebound. Blocked shot. Turnover. Jumper.
It didn’t matter.
The Cavs had an answer for every mini-surge put on by the Celtics.
And near the end of the third quarter, the Cavs seemed focused on putting Boston away as they pushed their lead up to 20 points and wound up settling for a 100-83 lead after three quarters.