BOSTON For most of the night, the Boston Celtics did all that they were supposed to do in order to win. The turnovers weren't alarmingly high. They shot pretty good from the field. And the rebounding margin was relatively close. The final five minutes arrived, and all hell broke lose as the Cleveland Cavaliers closed out Sunday's game with a 12-0 run and rallied past the C's for an 88-87 win. Let's take a look back at some of the keys before the game, and how those factors actually played out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Lately, the Celtics have been saving their best for the second half of games. During their four-game winning streak, opponents are only scoring 35.5 points against them in the second half. For the Cavs, scoring in the second half has not been a problem. In their last four games - three of which they lost - the Cavs have averaged 51.3 points scored in the second half which is actually higher than their 48.9 points per game average in the second half this season which ranks among the league's best scoring teams. Still, with a scoring defense ranked 24th (out of 30 teams) in the NBA, all those second-half points have been just enough for them to remain competitive.
WHAT WE SAW: The Cavaliers have been one of the NBA's best teams when it comes to scoring in the second half, as they came into Sunday's game ranked seventh and sixth in third and fourth quarter scoring, respectively. While the 44 points scored by Boston was below their season average for second-half scoring, it was almost 10 points more than what the teams Boston beat during its four-game winning streak had tallied in the second half. And making matters worse, Cleveland's best scoring quarter was the fourth when they scored 26 points. "The defense just didn't step up," said Paul Pierce.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs Anderson Varejao: This is a good matchup between a couple of power forwards now being asked to play some center. Garnett has been a solid scoring option for the Celtics, but he has really been impressive in defending Dwight Howard and Indiana's Roy Hibbert. Varejao has been a key to the Cavs being better than expected. He has nine double-doubles this season, and he's averaging 9.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
WHAT WE SAW: Garnett wasn't bad, scoring 14 points to go with seven rebounds. But there was no doubt that Varejao was better. He had 18 points and nine rebounds, doing most of his damage by simply out-working the Celtics at both ends of the floor. Kyrie Irving's game-winning basket would have never happened if it wasn't for Varejao's hustle which forced a Brandon Bass turnover with about 22 seconds to play. "It's what I try to do every night: get the second chance and stuff like that." Added Cavs coach Byron Scott: "So it's just Andy being Andy. Pure hustle, determination and was able to go after a guy to have one more possession."
PLAYER TO WATCH: The play of Antawn Jamison, maybe more than any other player on the floor tonight, will dictate the game's outcome. In Cleveland's seven wins, he's averaging 19.5 points while shooting 50.4 percent from the field. In their 11 losses, he's down to 12.5 points while connecting on just 34 percent of his shots.
WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics did a nice job of not allowing Jamison to ever get into any kind of flow or rhythm all night. He had 10 points, but missed 10 of his 13 shots from the field in addition to committing a couple of turnovers.
STAT TO TRACK: One of the keys to Boston's run of late has been their ability to make teams look for more one-on-one action, as opposed to getting the entire team involved. The C's are allowing teams an NBA-low 15.9 assists per game this season. Being able to continue disrupting the flow of opposing team's offenses, which is a big factor in the Celtics allowing so few assists, will once again play a role in their ability to win.
WHAT WE SAW: Again, this is another area in which the Celtics got exactly what they wanted. The Cavaliers were indeed in one-on-one mood for a number of stretches on Sunday, which limited their effectiveness in terms of ball movement. But the C's limiting the Cavaliers in assist, could not make up for the costly turnovers and missed shots by Boston over the final 4:25 of play in which the Cavaliers outscored the C's, 12-0.