BOSTON: With their best defensive player healthy and available on Tuesday, the Cavaliers regressed defensively. With Anderson Varejao sidelined Wednesday nursing a knee injury, the Cavs had little chance against the Boston Celtics in TD Garden.
Varejao watched from the bench Wednesday as Paul Pierce was blazing hot during the third quarter of the Cavs’ 103-91 loss to the Celtics. Pierce had a season-high 40 points, including 17 in the third quarter when he was unstoppable. Pierce entered averaging 20.9 points per game against the Cavaliers and has seemed to enjoy torturing them throughout his career. He’s never been as hot as he was Wednesday.
Pierce didn’t miss in the third quarter, making all seven shots (including three 3-pointers) to score the most points the Cavs have allowed an opponent in a single quarter all season.
After allowing the Raptors to shoot 52 percent in a dismal home loss on Tuesday, the defensive effort was even worse against a Celtics team that began the night reeling. The Celtics had dropped three straight and coach Doc Rivers was upset with the lack of consistency from such a veteran team.
The Celtics shot 60 percent for the game, but their inconsistencies surfaced in the second half when they lost the bulk of a 20-point lead in just six minutes.
The Celtics were up 19 when Pierce left the game and led 80-60 with three minutes left in the third quarter. But Kyrie Irving heated up once Pierce departed, scoring 10 of the Cavs’ final 14 points to end the third quarter, and the Celtics went silent on offense. By the time Tyler Zeller completed a three-point play three minutes into the fourth, the Cavs were within 82-80.
Rivers scrambled to get Pierce back in the game and the Celtics never lost the lead. He and Rajon Rondo combined to score 14 of Boston’s first 16 points of the fourth quarter to keep the Celtics in command.
The resilient effort from the Cavaliers was a pleasant surprise after such a dismal showing in Tuesday’s home loss to the Raptors, but the end result was no different.
“When you look at all the injuries they’ve had – and they’ve had a ton of them … to key guys – it makes it a hard job, especially when you’re young,” Rivers said. “Yet when you see them play, they’re in every game and they play hard.”
Playing without Varejao and Daniel Gibson, who missed the game with a sprained right ankle because there was still swelling in his foot, obviously left the Cavaliers at a huge disadvantage. Even with Irving’s presence and offensive ability, Cavs coach Byron Scott can make an argument that Varejao is the toughest player on the court to replace because of all he provides at both ends of the floor.
The injury isn’t considered serious and Varejao shouldn’t miss long, but any time he misses makes it that much more difficult for a young, struggling team to compete.
“I said (last season) the one guy we can’t afford to lose is Andy, and I think the next game we lost him for the whole year. He is that valuable to us,” Scott said. “He does a little bit of everything for us. He’s a guy we never worry about on the offensive end. I never really call plays for him and he still averages a double-double. He’s the one guy I know he’s going to give you everything he’s got every single night.”
Zeller, playing his first game without the face mask he needed after fracturing his cheekbone, played well in Varejao’s absence. He scored a career-high 20 points, Irving finished with 22 points and Dion Waiters had 13 points, four rebounds and four assists. Alonzo Gee and Tristan Thompson each added 11 points and Thompson grabbed 12 rebounds.
The Cavs have dropped five straight and 10 of their last 11. They are now just two games ahead of the Washington Wizards for the worst record in the NBA. The Cavs will take Thursday off before hosting the Indiana Pacers on Friday.