Playing the second night of a back-to-back with a shorthanded roster, the Celtics had a chance to keep their outright playoff hopes alive Wednesday night against a Cavaliers team that had lost 11 straight games. However, the absences of Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, Robert Williams, and Marcus Smart proved to be too much to overcome as the C’s fell 102-94 in Cleveland.
The loss drops the Celtics to 35-35 on the season and eliminates them from earning an outright playoff spot. Instead, they are now bound for the inaugural NBA play-in tournament, which begins next Tuesday. Boston can finish anywhere between the seventh and ninth seed in the East, depending on the outcome of the final two games of the season.
This game was a struggle for both sides early on. The teams shot a combined 15-for-42 in the first quarter, with the Celtics shooting 6-for-20. They didn’t pass the 11-point mark until the two-minute announcement, but closed the quarter on a 6-0 run, and trailed just 22-17 after one.
Things didn’t go much better in the second quarter. Both teams remained cold, and the Celtics finished the first half 33.3 percent from the floor. Heading into halftime, Cleveland led 42-39.
The Celtics took a brief lead to start the third quarter, before the teams traded the advantage back and forth. However, the Celtics were finally able to do something that has evaded them the last few games – put together a late-quarter run. Thanks to a 10-2 stretch, they took a 69-67 lead into the fourth.
Momentum switched right back to Cleveland’s side at the start of the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers went on an 11-0 run, which ultimately put the game away. Despite the back-and-forth nature of the game early on, which saw 14 lead changes, the Celtics never led by more than three, while Cleveland’s fourth quarter lead grew to as much as 13.
With all the absences, Jayson Tatum carried the load for the Celtics. He scored a team-high 29 points in 32 minutes, with eight rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. Evan Fournier and Payton Pritchard each added 15 points.
For Cleveland, Kevin Love stole the show. He scored a season-high 30 points and added 14 rebounds. Collin Sexton finished with 28 points, after getting to the free throw line 16 times.
The Celtics will play their penultimate game of the season on Saturday, when they visit the Timberwolves in Minnesota. Start time for that one is still TBD, but pregame coverage will begin half an hour before tip-off on the Celtics Radio Network.
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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.