BOSTON – Friday night marked the second straight game in which the Boston Celtics flew out of the gate to a double-digit, first-half lead. It also marked the second straight game in which their opponent stormed back and stole a win.
After coughing up an early 19-point lead in Monday night’s 120-102 loss in Chicago, the C’s returned home Friday night only to face the same issue against Cleveland. Boston’s offense got off to a scorching start, scoring 75 points in the first half during which it led by as many as 15 points.
However, Cleveland’s dynamic perimeter duo of Caris LeVert and Donovan Mitchell combined for 82 points, scoring 41 apiece, to lead a second-half surge, which they turned into a 132-123 overtime win at TD Garden.
“I think in the second half, we lost our pace, we lost our speed and ability to create separation,” Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla said after the game. “We were still in a good position to win the game, but we didn't make the winning plays down the stretch. I don't know if there's as much of an issue as if we have to make winning plays. We can't take anything for granted and so we had some empty possessions, we had turnovers and we had offensive rebounds given up. When you do those things, it puts you in a tough spot to win.”
To Mazzulla’s point, his team committed 19 turnovers and also allowed nine offensive rebounds, which led to 14 second-chance points. Those are both areas in which the Celtics know they can perform better.
“Those are all controllable things, so we’re not concerned,” said Jaylen Brown, who scored 32 points in the losing effort. “I think that we’ve done it before, and we can do it again. It’s just, like, re-locking in, refocusing, and emphasizing on things that we should be prioritizing right now.
“Those offensive rebounds, some of them were weird bounces and some of them were not. We’ve gotta be first to the glass and get the ball. We’ve got some different lineups out there, but we can’t let that be an excuse. We’ve gotta not let teams get second-chance opportunities and we let them get a lot of second-chance opportunities, especially late in the game.”
The different lineups were a result of the absences of both Grant Williams and Rob Williams. Grant was serving a one-game suspension after making contact with and directing inappropriate language toward a game official during Monday’s game in Chicago. Meanwhile, Rob continues to rehab from offseason knee surgery.
It was tough missing those two guys against Cleveland’s star double-big duo of Jarrett Allen and Even Mobley, who both tallied double-doubles, combining for 31 points and 21 rebounds.
Yet, Jayson Tatum wouldn’t let either of those absences excuse their second-half defensive collapse.
“Obviously, it will help when we get Rob back, but even before then, we got enough to be a really good defensive team,” said Tatum, who matched Brown in the scoring column with 32 points of his own. “We just got to continue to make that effort every single play.”
While it’s discouraging to have to address issues of effort, neither Tatum nor Brown seem worried about it becoming a trend. They had similar troubles at the start of last season but, of course, they wound up bouncing back and becoming the best defensive team in the league.
“I’m not super concerned,” said Tatum. “It’s something that we obviously need to work on, something we need to fix, just get on the same page. Obviously, we know the level of defense that we can play as a unit and it's just about finding ourselves and getting back to that place.”
The C’s will look to find themselves on that end of the court in the practice gym Saturday before returning to TD Garden for a Sunday night matchup against the Washington Wizards.