The Boston Celtics woes returned, except this time it was against Cleveland, not the NBA elite

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The Celtics had a chance to erase all their mistakes in the first half. A win would forgive a 21 point delay against a shocked Cavaliers team or how they had only scored 38 points at halftime.

Boston looked like they could get through all those low-energy minutes in the first half. The Celtics reduced him to three points after Jaylen Brown’s stellar play in the third quarter. Jayson Tatum brought them together at the start of the fourth.

Then the Celtics hit what has been a one-season battle: the finish. And their clutch stats suffered again in a 117-110 loss Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

Except it wasn’t against Jazz, the best team in the league. Or against Brooklyn, winner of its last 14 of 15. It’s the next level in the NBA. Part of the Celtics’ issues this season has been how they can’t get over this bump against the top teams in the league; an understandable though frustrating problem.

It was Cleveland, who entered Thursday’s game on a four-game losing streak. Credit is due to the Cavs, who Celtics coach Brad Stevens said hit all of their timely shots as Boston tried to make a comeback attempt.

It’s one of those games the Celtics, working around the 0.500 mark, needed to improve their standings. Instead, a lackluster first half turned into another loss as Boston fell to 20-20, tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference and the season clock dwindling.

“We got out of the gate with a really good effort, and what happened was I thought we were affected by some missing shots,” Stevens said. “You could see our body language change. They had several possessions there on their offensive side where we took them until the end of time… you could feel that effort. But then we got affected and it took us a while to get that back. “

Stevens said the Celtics got some open looks early on, but the shots just weren’t falling. This led to their “slumped shoulders” which is when the Cavs were able to get away.

Cleveland was playing with urgency, Stevens said, which is why the Celtics didn’t have a lot of flexibility when they were down. The young Cavs duo of Collin Sexton (29 points) and Darius Garland (25) faced the Celtics All-Star duo while Tatum (29 points) and Brown (28) had big, nightly nights.

“It’s basketball,” Stevens said. “But you have to be able to react to these times; you have to be able to answer those races and we did. We did it too late.

Boston has lost three of its last four games as its clutch record fell to 11-16. The league defines these games as within five points below the five-minute mark. There is often statistical noise in small sample sizes – especially in a season riddled with coronavirus – but they failed in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics are still ranked 29th in the league for the fourth quarter net standings, sliding to minus-7.5. Their defensive rating of 117.5 in the fourth quarter is the worst in the league; another on a long list of problems hampering Boston. The only team below the Celtics in fourth quarter net score is Cleveland at minus -8.0.

“I don’t know, but we’re starting off slow,” Tatum said of the first half. “But in the second half, we played more like ourselves. We played harder, faster, we gave ourselves a chance. We all wish we started that way instead of trying to come back 20 points.

Barring a long winning streak, the Celtics are stuck around the 0.500 mark as they move deeper into the season. The deadline for exchanges is in eight days, although it is not clear whether C chairman Danny Ainge to make move in the coming days or during the offseason, when they will have more options with the exception of players traded for $ 28.5 million.

Regardless of any additions – flashy or not, modifying the team or not – the Celtics have a clear Kryptonite in their endgame execution. Of course, they wouldn’t have been in such a miserable state without a listless first half.

But the Celtics are at what their record is – and it’s at .500 and just about to have to make a play-in game before the NBA playoffs.

“All we’re going to keep trying to focus on is playing basketball well,” Stevens said. “And we saw more in the second half and not enough in the first half – and that bit us. If you have a stretch like that against an NBA team, you’re usually having a bad night. And when you play against a team that played with the kind of urgency and like they did tonight, they made us pay for it.



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