July 23, 2016

Mostly clear

Cavaliers sluggish in loss to Celtics

CLEVELAND — The penultimate game of the season was the ultimate clunker for the Cavaliers.

Playing with no emotion and virtually no effort prior to a totally cosmetic fourth-quarter rally, the Cavs were dismantled 111-99 by a bad and injured Boston Celtics team Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

Boston (25-55), which had lost 13 straight games on the road and had just eight healthy players in uniform, was playing without Rajon Rondo (shin), Jared Sullinger (ankle), Gerald Wallace (knee, ankle), Jeryd Bayless (knee) and Kris Humphries (knee), but led by 31 points at the end of three quarters and by 33 early in the fourth.

“When you watch us play, we don’t look like we’re playing to get better,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “We look like we’re playing (while) going through the motions. It’s not good.”

The Cavs (32-49), who lost to the NBA-worst Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, were minus Luol Deng (back), Anthony Bennett (knee) and C.J. Miles (ankle).

They were also without heart, desire and professionalism on a night when saying they went through the motions for the first three quarters would be giving them too much credit.

“Watching us play these last two games, on both ends of the floor, reminds me of the first months of the year,” Brown said.

A lot of Cavs were bad, but Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, who looked like they would have rather been anywhere besides The Q, set the tempo. Their best move of the night, in fact, was exiting the locker room before media members were allowed in it.

Irving, who had 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting Friday against the Bucks, picked up where he left off, going 3-for-15 from the field with two assists in a completely misleading 15-point outing.

Waiters was 6-for-15 from the field and also had 15 ugly points and just two assists, and his decision-making and shot selection were actually worse than Irving’s.

Then there was Spencer Hawes, who had a robust three points on 1-for-4 shooting in 21 uninspired minutes. The only thing that made his offense look good was his horrendous defense.

None of those Cavs played in the fourth period, when Cleveland outscored Boston 41-22 to make the final score totally misleading.

“I wish I had an answer,” Hawes said. “These games are tough.”

Hawes was alluding to the fact the Cavs fell out of playoff contention when Atlanta won Tuesday. The losses to the Bucks and Celtics followed.

“We have to do a better job battling human nature and not allowing that to impact our effort,” the center said.

It impacted it, all right — in a completely negative way.

Boston’s starting lineup consisted of Jeff Green (19 points, 8 rebounds), Brandon Bass (19 points) and guys named Kelly Olynyk (career-high-tying 25 points, career-high 12 rebounds), Avery Bradley (25 points, 8 rebounds) and Phil Pressey (9 points, 5 rebounds, 13 assists).

The latter three might as well have been Robert Parish, Larry Bird and Dennis Johnson.

Olynyk, a long-haired, 7-foot, 238-pounder, had 20 points in the first half, when he took Cavs players off the dribble — usually Hawes — on four occasions. Bradley had 15 points in the first half and Pressey, who is generously listed at 5-11, had a one-handed, put-back dunk and matched Cleveland’s team total of seven assists as Boston went up 60-42 at intermission.

It only got worse. The Celtics, who ended the second period on a 15-4 run, scored eight unanswered points in the first 1:16 of the third to go up 26. They led by 31 at the end of the quarter and by 33 early in the fourth.

“You want to win,” Brown said. “But for me, the most important thing is trying to play the right way. We haven’t consistently played the right way for a while.”

The coach actually spent the first five minutes of his postgame press conference praising the way Tyler Zeller (12 points, 7 rebounds), Matthew Dellavedova (10 points), Tristan Thompson (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Alonzo Gee (11 points, 7 rebounds) played in the fourth quarter.

Through three periods, however, Thompson had five points, Dellavedova and Gee had four apiece and Zeller had three.

“It’s too bad for us to play the way we have as of late and let opportunities to get better slip away,” Brown said. “We have opportunities to get better as a team and as individuals and we just don’t know how to do it.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him at RickNoland on Twitter.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.