Boston had defeated the Cavaliers less than two weeks ago, and Cleveland (23-52) came in losers of 10 consecutive games, but that did not matter tonight. The Cavaliers topped the Celtics 97-91.
The Celtics (39-37) came in an undermanned team without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Both sat out due to ankle injuries.
Garnett’s absence was particularly felt in the paint, where Tristan Thompson dominated the Celtics. Thompson had a season-high in points and rebounds with 29 and 17. Thompson’s 17 rebounds helped account for the Cavaliers’ edge of 16 on the glass.
Without Pierce to help orchestrate the offense, Boston never got into any rythym. They shot just 40.4 percent from the floor, including a miserable six of 22 from the 3-point line.
The one bright spot for the Celtics offensively was Jeff Green. Green continued his trend of picking up the scoring slack left without Garnett, dropping 23 points tonight. Green also led the Celtics in rebounding with nine.
Also producing in Garnett’s absence has been Shavlik Randolph. Randolph contributed 16 points and seven rebounds off the bench. He was the only member of the bench in double-figures.
With the Celtics preparing for the playoffs, preventing injuries and gaining rest has become the top priority for Doc Rivers. The Celtics suffered a scare when Avery Bradley hurt his collar bone late in the game.
He was forced to go back into the locker room, but all initial reports indicate it is not serious. While Bradley’s offense has fallen off in the past few weeks, he still remains a defensive presence.
His defense helped keep Kyrie Irving in check for most of the night. Irving scored 16 points, but took 20 shots to do so.
The Celtics next play on Sunday against the Washington Wizards. Rivers pointed toward this as a likely return for Garnett. Boston now has five games left in the season.
The Celtics still remain two and a half games ahead of the Bucks for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.