In fact, cranky would best describe the Celtics’ mood as they packed for a trip home to play Milwaukee on Wednesday.
“It was a win, that’s all it was for us,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “It was a good way to end the losing streak, but we have to be better than that. That was awful.”
Ray Allen scored 22 points and Kevin Garnett added 18 as Boston, which couldn’t hold a 16-point lead in the first quarter, avoided its first six-game skid since dropping seven in a row from April 4-15, 2007. The Celtics’ big lead became a five-point deficit in the third quarter, making the last 12 minutes a possession-by-possession game until Boston finally made enough plays to pull it out.
“Hopefully, this was just a little All-Star hangover,” Paul Pierce said. “We’re making it hard on ourselves.”
Kyrie Irving returned from a bruised elbow that sidelined him late in the second quarter and led Cleveland with 24 points, 19 in the second half.
Irving hit two free throws with 1:21 remaining to give Cleveland an 81-80 lead. After Allen missed a 3-pointer, Garnett tipped Irving’s pass, leading to Allen’s dunk with 48.6 seconds left that put Boston ahead for good.
“I got my hand on it and I got the ball to Ray for a layup,” Garnett said. “Nothing special about it.”
Irving said it was simply a good defensive play by the Celtics.
“I wasn’t careless,” Irving said. “They anticipated it and they stole the ball. Nothing big.”
Irving drove down the lane and missed a layup with 27 seconds remaining. Garnett missed on Boston’s next possession, but grabbed his own rebound and was fouled by Antawn Jamison with 3.9 seconds to go. Garnett made both shots and the Cavaliers called a timeout trailing 84-81.
Irving was fouled before he could get off a 3-point attempt and made both free throws with 3.5 seconds left. Allen hit two foul shots with 2.4 seconds remaining, and Anthony Parker’s 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the front rim.
A moment of silence was observed before the game for the victims of Monday’s shootings at Chardon High School, located approximately 30 miles from Cleveland. Three students were killed and two were wounded.
The Celtics lead the Cavaliers by 2 1/2 games for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Boston lost its final five games before the All-Star break, the last three by 15 or more points.
“We’ve got to fight through this,” Garnett said. “This is going to be a true grind right here, physically and mentally.”
It appeared the Celtics were headed to a blowout of their own as they dominated the first quarter, shooting 12 for 20 from the field. Their biggest lead was 28-12 on Garnett’s bank shot with 19 seconds left in the period.
Irving left the game with 3:41 remaining before halftime after taking a charge from Pierce. Irving was taken to the locker room and returned to the bench with about two minutes to go, but didn’t play the rest of the half. Cleveland trailed 43-38 at halftime.
“I just hit my elbow on the floor,” Irving said. “Once I got back (to the locker room) I felt much better. There was nothing funny about it (hitting his funny bone). It was my first almost-injury in the NBA.”
Irving returned to begin the second half and immediately made his presence felt. His 3-pointer broke a 53-all tie with 5:03 remaining in the quarter. Irving followed with a steal and a breakaway dunk to give Cleveland a five-point lead, its largest of the game.
Irving had six points in his last game before the All-Star break, tying his career low, and was 2 for 13 from the field. He scored 34 points and earned MVP honors in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday.
“He’s terrific,” Rivers said. “His handling skills and moxie in the fourth quarter, I don’t know if we’ve ever seen it from a rookie.”
Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was held scoreless for the first time since March 16 last season against Indiana. He had 11 assists, but committed five turnovers.
“He was struggling,” Rivers said. “I think he got down on himself because of his turnovers.”
Cleveland finished its franchise record nine-game homestand with a 4-5 record.
Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal missed his second straight game with a sprained left wrist. He remained in Boston and will be examined by doctors Wednesday.
NOTES: Boston F Brandon Bass, who had missed the past six games with a sore left knee, and center Chris Wilcox, who didn’t play in the final game before the All-Star break because of a strained right adductor, both returned. Bass scored 12 points, while Wilcox had five points and a season-high 11 rebounds. … Parker returned after missing 12 games because of a lower back strain. He scored one point in 22 minutes. … The Cavaliers play in New York on Wednesday night.
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