CLEVELAND: This time it was a 14-point lead with eight minutes to go. This time it wasn’t the league’s hottest team, but rather another injury-ravaged roster just trying to hold on to its playoff seed.
More questionable rotations, more questionable clock management. More bad defense, more ineffectiveness on offense. Another stinging defeat after bumbling away another big lead in a season that has been circling the drain for weeks.
The Cavs lost to the Boston Celtics 93-92 when they blew the defensive assignment and left Jeff Green with a clear path to the basket for a layup at the buzzer.
“We’ve got to get a lot better at winning ball games,” Luke Walton said. “You’ve got to play aggressive, you’ve got to play to win and not play not to lose. Hopefully all this losing and all this sour pain feeling will make the team grow and get better for the future.”
The Cavs have invented new ways to lose all season. They blew a 26-point lead to the Phoenix Suns, a 27-point lead to the Miami Heat and a 22-point lead to the New York Knicks.
This one is just as bad because these Celtics aren’t the typical Celtics. Kevin Garnett is out with a sore ankle, Rajon Rondo is out with a knee injury and Jared Sullinger is out following back surgery. Their only real weapons are Paul Pierce and Green, although Brandon Bass nearly quadrupled his season scoring average on Wednesday.
As the Celtics began charging back in the fourth quarter, Scott refused to call a timeout or play Tyler Zeller in the fourth quarter – the same criticisms he heard after squandering the lead against the Heat last Wednesday.
The Cavs left the arena with three timeouts, but Scott was most irritated that the Celtics were essentially awarded an extra timeout in the final seconds that allowed them to diagram the play for Green.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers used his final timeout with 9 seconds left, but Alonzo Gee stripped the ball out of Pierce’s hands after the Celtics inbounded. The ball clearly went out on Gee, but officials huddled together to review the play anyhow with 2.1 seconds left as Rivers frantically waived his players over for a quick huddle.
“Basically you give them another timeout,” Scott said. “It was very clear. It was very clear.”
Gee was to remain paired up with Pierce, but the Cavs were supposed to switch everything else on the final play. The problems began immediately when Scott thought Luke Walton (who was defending Green initially) drifted too far down the floor and Wayne Ellington had his back turned to the play. Ellington should’ve picked up Green on the switch, but didn’t see the screen and never recovered.
“It’s not hard to tell it didn’t happen the way we wanted it to happen,” C.J. Miles said. “(Green) came flying off that thing with a head of steam toward the basket. Wanted to make him shoot a jump shot. And that’s not what happened.”
Scott had multiple opportunities to timeout in the game’s closing minutes and elected not to do it. He could’ve taken a timeout after Pierce’s fade away jumper with 32 seconds left closed the deficit to 92-91, but he elected to let his team play on.
Shaun Livingston got the look he wanted on a turnaround jumper from inside the paint on the elbow. It’s one of his favorite spots on the floor, he simply missed the shot.
Without Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, Scott conceded he really doesn’t have a go-to player when the game is on the line. Livingston dribbled the ball up the floor and got into position without ever passing the ball. It was clear he wanted the final shot and he wasn’t giving it up. Scott said he didn’t bother calling a timeout because he thought the Celtics would switch everything and the Cavs would’ve ended up with the same play in either scenario.
“It was going to be pretty much the same (play) we ended up with,” Scott said. “Shaun was going to have the ball or Wayne was going to have the ball. They were going to have to try and make a play and I thought Shaun got a good look. He got right into the paint. He just missed it.”
More perplexing is Tyler Zeller’s absence in the fourth quarter after really hurting the Celtics early on. Zeller had 11 points and nine rebounds in the game, but seven of those points and six of those rebounds came in the first quarter.
Zeller didn’t play a minute in the fourth quarter because Scott said the Celtics went small and he didn’t like the matchup. It was the same reason he gave for playing Zeller just 1:51 of the fourth quarter last week against the Heat despite Zeller hurting them in the first half.
Zeller has played less than six minutes in the Cavs’ last seven fourth quarters combined, but Scott disagreed with the idea that Zeller is out of his fourth quarter rotation.
“It’s matchups. They had a small team so I went small as well,” Scott said. “It’s the same thing when we played Miami. I don’t want to put Tyler on Chris Bosh.”
Asked why not try to create a mismatch with Zeller’s size, Scott said Zeller first needs to get better offensively.
“I think if Tyler was more of an offensive threat in the post, which I think he will be, then I could see your point,” he said. “But right now I don’t.”