CLEVELAND: This time, Paul Pierce wasn’t late arriving. Neither was Rajon Rondo. This time, the Cavaliers couldn’t win after rallying from yet another huge early deficit. And this time, Kyrie Irving couldn’t finish, missing a layup and turning over the ball down the stretch in the Cavs’ 86-83 loss to the Boston Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday night.
The Cavs had a chance to tie the Celtics in the loss column for the eighth seed in the East, but instead fell two games behind.
Just the fact that the Cavs had a chance to tie at the buzzer seemed unlikely when they fell behind 28-12 late in the first quarter. But with 2.4 seconds remaining and Irving blanketed by Kevin Garnett, Anthony Parker inbounded to Daniel Gibson, got the ball back right away and left an open 29-footer on the front of the rim, allowing the staggering Celtics to end a five-game losing streak.
“Tough loss,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said.
“I kind of messed up for us,” Irving added.
The Cavs erased that 16-point deficit quickly and had pulled even early in the third quarter. Irving scored 24 points, including 13 in the third, to set up another wild finish.
The Celtics took two out of three in the season series against the Cavs, but all three games were decided by a total of seven points.
With the Cavs ahead 81-80 in the final minute, Irving tried whipping the ball over his head and behind him to an open Antawn Jamison, but the Celtics poked the ball away and Ray Allen had an easy layup for an 82-81 lead.
Irving tried the same thing on the next possession and the ball was knocked away again, but this time the Cavs retained possession when the ball trickled out of bounds. Irving attacked the basket in an effort to give the Cavs the lead, but Pierce defended him at the rim and the shot was no good.
When he made his first career game-winner last month in Boston, Irving floated it over Pierce, who was late arriving with help after Irving split two defenders. This time, Pierce defended it perfectly. Neither Scott nor Irving felt it was a foul.
“It felt like it was going to be a routine play for me, just at a tough angle,” Irving said. “I’ve made tougher layups than that; it just didn’t fall.”
Scott wanted Irving to find Alonzo Gee, since Pierce’s presence in front of the basket likely meant Gee was open in the corner for what should’ve been an uncontested 3-pointer.
“That’s just the next step for Kyrie,” Scott said. “Once he gets there, sometimes it’s hard to finish. Sometimes the easiest play is just to find the open guy. … I can’t fault the kid being aggressive, trying to get to the basket.”
It’s also tough to be upset with Irving when he scored 24 points, and the rest of the starters combined for 23.
Garnett made two free throws on the Celtics’ next possession to put the Cavs in an 84-81 hole with 3.9 seconds left. Needing a 3-pointer to tie, Parker inbounded to Irving in the corner, but Rondo fouled him just before he could get his shot off — although Irving thought he was in the act of shooting when Rondo grabbed him. After officials conferred, they gave Irving two free throws instead of three, and Scott conceded he was surprised the Celtics fouled Irving.
“Sometimes that backfires,” Scott said.
After trading free throws, the Cavs were still behind by three with 2.4 seconds left and one final chance to tie. The ball wound up in the hands of Parker, who was making his return after missing a month with a strained lower back.
Scott wanted either Irving, Gibson or Parker to get the final look. When Irving was blanketed by Garnett in the corner, the options became Gibson or Parker.
“We had a good look,” Scott said. “He had it right on line. It was just a little short.”
Allen had 22 points and Garnett had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Celtics, who hadn’t won on the road since beating the Cavs at Quicken Loans Arena on Jan. 31. They had dropped their past five on the road.
All-Star Rajon Rondo missed the first two games in this series with injuries and was woefully outplayed by Irving on Tuesday. Rondo had 11 assists, but went scoreless and turned the ball over six times.
“We had a good opportunity,” Irving said. “It just didn’t fall our way.”
They’ll get another crack to gain ground in the playoff chase tonight, when they play at the New York Knicks, who began play Tuesday as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://cavs.ohio.com Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.