C’s Show Second-Half Poise in Bounce-Back Win Over Cavs
Forty-eight hours after suffering a 19-point, second-half collapse in Cleveland, the Boston Celtics redeemed themselves against the Cavaliers by producing one of their steadiest wins of the season.
Monday night’s rematch at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse had a much different vibe, as it was tightly contested almost from start to finish. And, despite it being a one-possession game for most of the second half, Boston remained in the lead for the final 15-plus minutes of regulation, en route to a 98-92 win.
Marcus Smart’s driving layup at the 3:25 mark of the third quarter gave Boston a 59-57 advantage, which it would never relinquish. Despite never extending their lead beyond single digits while also allowing Cleveland to pull within one point on several occasions, the Celtics stayed composed all the way through to the final buzzer, unlike the previous match which had left a sour taste in their mouths.
“I just like the fact that we stayed with it,” Al Horford said following a 17-point, nine-rebound, three-assist, two-block effort. “We didn't get rattled. They were making some tough shots down the stretch there and (we played) really good defense. Some calls didn't go our way, but our group stayed poised.”
Horford attributed their collective poise to the way in which they followed the lead of their steady-minded superstar.
“I think, for us, it starts with Jayson (Tatum),” Horford said. “He's pretty calm in those moments and it's just us following that and making sure we finished the game the right way.”
The C’s didn’t start the game the right way, as they fell behind 20-9 in the first quarter, mirroring the exact lead they had over Cleveland two nights prior. They were able to cut their deficit down to two at halftime, despite scoring only 37 points before the break.
“We were guarding well in the first half,” said Tatum, who logged a team-high 23 points along with eight rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. “Just playing a little too slow in the first half, and that's something we just kind of emphasized going into the second half."
Added head coach Ime Udoka, “I told them at halftime I felt like we were in mud offensively ... I felt defensively, we were great, and so we emphasized just playing faster, playing freer, and finding your teammates.”
Boston broke out of the break on a 10-4 run with Tatum leading the charge, creating its first six points.
The Celtics also received an offensive spark from their backcourt, as Dennis Schroder and Marcus Smart tallied 14 points apiece. Schroder scored a large portion of those points in crunch time, logging six points in the final 76 seconds of regulation.
“We were downhill attacking right from the start in the second half,” said Udoka. “They called a quick timeout and I told the guys, that’s the pace we need to play with, the energy and effort we need to play with offensively. And we carried that over, so that’s a good sign going forward.”
It was also a good sign that their defense stayed locked in while their offense surged. It marked the fifth time in the last seven games that the C’s held their opponent to fewer than 93 points, after doing so only three times all of last season.
“We've been building on it, and I feel like that's our identity: tough defensive team,” said Horford. “I know we are going to make it hard on people and I feel like that has to be our identity because that's going to put us in a position to be able to win games night in and night out.”
It's what put the Celtics in a position to bounce back and win Monday night as well, boosting the team’s spirits as it heads down to Atlanta to finish off its three-game road trip.
“Especially coming off last game, losing 19-point lead doesn't leave a good taste,” said Tatum “So just wanted to get back in the win column, feel good about ourselves going into Atlanta."