Celtics-Cavaliers Preview

Looking much better after a woeful mid-January stretch, the

Boston Celtics were hoping Ray Allen’s return Sunday would help

them continue to overcome the absence of Rajon Rondo.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, there was still a dominant point

guard on the floor.

Rookie Kyrie Irving capped his latest impressive effort – and

the Cavaliers’ game-ending 12-0 run – with a last-second layup that

ended Boston’s four-game winning streak, a loss the Celtics will

try to avenge Tuesday night in Cleveland.

Boston moved back to .500 with four straight victories after a

5-9 start, and the Celtics looked well on their way to a fifth when

Brandon Bass’ free throw put them up 87-76 on the Cavaliers with

4:25 left Sunday.

That was the last point Boston (9-10) would score. Irving had

six of his game-high 23 points in the final 4:13, splitting two

defenders for a layup with 2.6 seconds left to give Cleveland a

stunning 88-87 victory.

“I thought he dominated the fourth quarter,” Celtics coach Doc

Rivers said. “He single-handedly, in my opinion, willed that win

for them.”

It was the same play the Cavaliers (8-11) called for Irving with

the score tied in the waning seconds Dec. 30 at Indiana. He missed

an easy runner in that spot, and the Pacers went on to win in

overtime.

“He (learned) not to miss the layup this time,” Cleveland coach

Byron Scott said. “He had that little look in his eye like he

wanted it, almost like he wanted to redeem himself.”

Irving, who had a season-high 32 points Friday in a home loss to

New Jersey and leads all rookies with 17.9 per game, isn’t just

putting up points. He’s also been remarkably efficient with his

attempts, shooting 51.6 percent to rank fifth in the league among

guards – just behind Allen and Rondo.

Though the Duke product isn’t even one-third of the way through

his first season, he’s holding some impressive company early. No

rookie guard has shot a higher percentage over a full season since

Magic Johnson connected on 53.0 percent in 1979-80.

Irving made 10 of 14 shots Sunday. His clutch play late made the

defeat difficult to swallow for Boston, which held its opponents to

36.9 percent shooting during the winning streak before the

Cavaliers shot 43.0 percent.

“This was a bad loss for us,” Rivers said. “Not that it was

Cleveland; it was that we had the game under control. And we didn’t

take care of it.”

Rondo won’t play again Tuesday – he could return later this week

– but Allen looked good Sunday after sitting for three games with

an injured ankle. The 10-time All-Star had 22 points on 9-of-14

shooting in his first game back, a vast improvement over the 9.3

points he averaged while shooting 40.4 percent in his previous

seven contests.

Rondo’s absence has forced the Celtics to run their offense

through Paul Pierce more often, and while Pierce has averaged 24.6

points and 8.0 assists in his last five games, he’s also averaged

5.2 turnovers.

He gave it away seven times against the Cavaliers, his most in

nearly two years.

Boston also needs to figure out a way to slow Anderson Varejao,

who had 18 points and nine boards Sunday. He’s averaged 14.6 points

and 10.2 rebounds in his last five regular-season games against the

Celtics while shooting 69.8 percent.

Cavaliers guards Anthony Parker (back) and Daniel Gibson (neck)

are both out Tuesday, meaning Scott may have to start rookie Mychel

Thompson in the backcourt with Irving.

Boston returns to TD Garden for a five-game homestand starting

Wednesday, but it’s eager to have another shot at the Cavaliers so

soon.

“We’ll be prepared,” guard Avery Bradley said. “We just need to

come with a chip on our shoulders and come and play hard like we’ve

been doing.”