Boston Celtics win streak snapped in stunning loss to Cleveland Cavaliers, 105-104

Boston Celtics win streak snapped in stunning loss to Cleveland Cavaliers, 105-104

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As their win streak extended and their grasp on the league’s best record continues to solidfy, the NBA’s number one question became more and more pressing: can anyone beat the Boston Celtics? At least for a night, the Cleveland Cavaliers provided an answer. In the two teams’ final meeting of the season, the Cavs — one of the East’s best stories in their own right — rattled off an enormous 32-6 run in the fourth quarter to stun the NBA’s best team, snapping an 11-game win streak on a shocking conclusion that featured an overturned call against Jayson Tatum at the end of regulation.

Tatum led the way for Boston with a 26-point outing, and Jaylen Brown shrugged off a slow first half to add 21 points of his own. Kristaps Porzingis wreaked havoc against Cleveland’s frontcourt, scoring 24, swatting three shots and nabbing two steals. Improbably, though, the star of the evening was Cleveland forward Dean Wade, who scored 20 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to spark the Cavaliers’ massive comeback. Jarrett Allen added 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Cavaliers.

Two days after the Golden State Warriors made the curious decision to leave him open, Brown looked similarly ready to shoot this evening — but to less success. He jacked up four threes in the opening four minutes, making just one, and struggled his way to a 2-for-8 shooting mark across the opening quarter. You wouldn’t know it from watching the Celtics’ offense, though; they piled up 33 first quarter points, including a 14-0 run, behind hot starts from Tatum (13 points) and Porzingis (10). They led by eight entering the second, 33-25.

One encouraging dynamic for the Celtics was their effectiveness defending the rim against Cleveland’s jumbo-sized double-big frontcourt. Though Allen got out to a reasonably strong start (team-high 13 first half points), Mobley struggled to the tune of a scoreless half (0-of-6 FG), including a stuff at the rim by Luke Kornet that provided one of Boston’s six first half blocks. Garland similarly struggled to shake the Boston defense. He dropped Sam Hauser on a highlight reel three-pointer, but otherwise shot just 2-of-9 from the field.

Tatum continued his early barrage, recording a near-perfect shooting line (7-of-9 FG, 5-of-6 3PT) to compensate for a struggling Brown (4-of-13 FG). The Celtics’ lead pushed into the double-digits and remained there for much of the quarter, even as the Cavaliers pinned their ears back defensively. Boston shot just 42% from the field, but still outpaced Cleveland by 10% in that regard, and entered the halftime break with a 55-45 lead.

The Cavaliers founds some swagger as the second half began. They kept up their tenacious defensive effort, and began to convert on the opportunities those stops created on the other end of the floor. Cleveland cut the Celtics’ lead down as close as four points in the early minutes of the third quarter. Boston’s offensive machine kept churning, preventing the Cavaliers from fully flipping control of the game, but the margin for error in this game rapidly became a lot slimmer.

At least, they did for a moment. The Celtics turned the tides as the clock ticked down in the third. Derrick White converted on an absolutely comical and-one layup as he lost his balance and fell in the paint, extending what quickly became a 10-0 Boston run in the closing minutes. Cleveland’s Isaac Okoro broke the run with a layup, but Porzingis and Brown answered with three-pointers — the latter of which was ruled a four-point play but overturned on a challenge. All of the sudden, Boston was back in command — they led by 16 entering the fourth quarter, 87-71.

Payton Pritchard opened the scoring in the final quarter by connecting on a lob pass to Kornet for an alley-oop slam, but the Cavaliers weren’t going to go down just yet. They embarked on a 14-2 run through the midway point of the quarter, ferociously erasing the Boston lead. They surged back within 10 points as the clock ticked under six minutes remaining in regulation, and moments later, a pair of Dean Wade three-pointers drew them within three with the clock just above four minutes remaining. Celtics’ coach Joe Mazzulla called a timeout, tasked with fending off a white-hot Cleveland offense and a deafening Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse crowd.

Coming out of the timeout, Porzingis connected on a tough post-up look to restore a two-possession advantage for Boston, but fouled Allen on the other end to give it back at the free throw line. After the Celtics came up empty on the ensuing possession, the blazing Cavs struck again — a Georges Niang triple tied the game at 99 points apiece with just over three minutes left to play. In the blink of an eye, the comeback was completed — Wade converted on yet another triple — his sixth of the night — to put Cleveland ahead with 2:34 remaining in regulation, extending the Cavaliers’ run to a monstrous 23-4.

After Garland split a pair of free throws, the Celtics finally found another bucket, a Jrue Holiday layup to bring them within two. A pair of Garland turnovers provided opportunities for the Celtics to tie the game, and the second one came through, as Porzingis drew a shooting foul from Garland and converted the three-point play to put the Celtics back ahead by a solitary point with 36 seconds remaining.

The closing sequence was a wild one. Wade sliced through the Boston defense for a driving dunk with 19 seconds to play, his 20th point in the fourth quarter. On the final possession of the game, Tatum isolated against Garland and fired a fadeaway two-point jumper, missing the shot but drawing a foul that would put him on the line with a chance to win the game with 0.1 seconds remaining. Having won the challenge on Brown’s would-be four-point play at the end of the third, Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff used his restored challenge to contest the play. The officiating staff overturned the call, ruling that Tatum initiated contact, and the Celtics ultimately ran out of time on a final jump ball.

Next up, the Celtics stay on the road for yet another high-profile, national television matchup, facing off with the defending champion Denver Nuggets at 10 PM EST on TNT.

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