Celtics-Cavaliers review: What we saw

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Celtics-Cavaliers review: What we saw

CLEVELAND -- The Boston Celtics' game against Cleveland on Tuesday looked a lot like the first one they had on Sunday. Fortunately for the C's, the outcome was different as the Celtics held off a late Cavaliers rally and escaped with a 93-90 win.

Down the stretch, Boston came through with clutch shots, defensive stops and most important, the victory.

"It wasn't any panic in the huddles," said Jermaine O'Neal, who had 12 points. "Guys knew what we had to do. We had to want to get stops, and obviously, we had to score. Those are the two things that always win games."

While those were both factors in the game's outcome, there were others as well.

We outlined a few prior to the game.

Let's take a look and see how they played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Without question, the biggest concern the C's take away from Sunday's loss was their inability to score down the stretch. After a Brandon Bass jumper with 4:58 to play, Boston didn't make another basket. And its only point afterward was a Bass free throw with 4:25 to play. Look for coach Doc Rivers to bring back his core guys like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett about halfway through the fourth unless the game is in full-blown blow-out mode.

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics didn't light it up in the closing moments of the game, but they consistently got the right shooter, in the right spot, to take and make the right shot.

The C's focused on their bigs leading the way offensively in the fourth, evident by all 17 of the C's points being scored by Pierce (7), Garnett (6) and Brandon Bass. Easily the biggest shot of the night was made by Garnett, whose 13-footer with 1:04 to play put the C's ahead by four points.

"They've always been one of the best offensive executing teams in the league," said Cavs coach Byron Scott. "When you have the type of guys that they have, it's pretty easy to execute offensively."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Kyrie Irving: If you are a defensive stopper, which is what Bradley is pegged to be for the Celtics, you have to up for this challenge, especially when you consider how Irving, a rookie, had his way with Bradley and the C's on Sunday. He finished with a game-high 23 points, including the game-winning basket. Bradley isn't going to make Irving shrink the way he did Orlando's Jameer Nelson. But he needs to be able to make life tougher - a lot tougher - on Irving, who has said that Bradley was a player he looked up to while in high school.
WHAT WE SAW: For three quarters, Bradley was at the very least, holding his own with Irving. But then came the fourth quarter, which brought with it a much more aggressive, more effective, Irving, who almost pulled off another end-of-the-game comeback for Cleveland. He finished with a game-high 21 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter.

"He just knows that that is winning time," said Scott. "His focus is even more heightened than when the game starts. He's just doing a great job in the fourth quarter."

PLAYER TO WATCH: You know Anderson Varejao is going to bring lots of energy and will make multiple effort plays on the boards. But Boston can not allow him to score 18 points, which was a season-high for him.

"You can trade Varejao today and put him on any team in the NBA, and there will be immediate results," said Rivers. "Without a play, without anything; just because of the way he plays. He's a special talent in the way that he attacks the game; tough to deal with."

WHAT WE SAW: You can add Rivers to the growing bandwagon for Varejao to be an All-Star this season. Varejao became the first player with a 2020 game against the C's, finishing with 20 points and 20 rebounds. "Varejao is always an All-Star as far as I'm concerned," Rivers said. "They should keep a spot for a role player, because that's what he does. He plays his role what he'd have? 20 points? I guarantee they didn't run one set for him."

STAT TO TRACK: The Celtics saw the video of how "night and day" their energy level was defensively against Cleveland on Sunday, and how it had been in their previous four games - all wins. While this can be difficult to quantify, points off turnovers certainly gives one a glimpse as to how the C's defensive pressure is or isn't, throwing off the timing and rhythm of an opponent. In the four wins, Boston forced those teams to turn the ball over 17.5 times which led to 19.8 points. In the Cavs loss on Sunday, Boston forced 14 turnovers that generated 17 points.

WHAT WE SAW: For three-plus quarters, Boston's defensive energy was where it needs to be in order for them to be successful. The C's forced 17 Cleveland turnovers which led to 21 points. Boston was especially effective in the second quarter when they forced four turnovers that generated nine points, a big reason why the Celtics took a 51-39 lead into the half. "I thought we played really well," said Rivers. "We had the one stretch, in the beginning of the fourth, where we really let Cleveland back in it."

Dominique Wilkins reflects on his rivalry with Larry Bird

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Dominique Wilkins reflects on his rivalry with Larry Bird

During our series discussing the 1986 Boston Celtics, we have sat down with many players from that championship, along with members of the media that were close to the team.

This week features a few of the opponents that were very familiar with the 1980’s Celtics  - Atlanta Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins, former Celtics coach (and Hawk) Doc Rivers, and Lakers great James Worthy.

Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

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Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

BOSTON -- Early in 2016 praises were sung around the league that Xander Bogaerts was the best hitter in baseball.

Rightfully so. For a good portion of the season he led the league in both batting average and hits. But between Mookie Betts’ ascension and Bogaerts’ drop in average from .331 on 7/29 to .306 after Monday night’s game, he’s taken a back seat.

But the Red Sox shortstop’s month-long dry spell hasn’t been a straight decline. Although he was held hitless Monday, Bogaerts went 6-for-13 (.462) against Kansas City.

In fact, the 23-year-old doesn’t even consider the recent month of struggles the worst stretch of his career.

“2014 probably,” Bogaerts said, “yeah I had a terrible, terrible few months -- probably three months.”

That was of course the season a lot came into question surrounding the now All-Star shortstop, so he was pretty spot on. In 2014 Bogaerts went from hitting .304 through 5/31, to .248 by the end of June, .244 after his last game in July, all the way down to .224 by the last day of August.

Bogaerts would hit .313 that September and finish with a .240 average -- but more importantly, an appreciation of what he’d experienced.

“That definitely helped me become a better person, a better player -- and understanding from that and learning,” Bogaerts said.

From that experience, he gained a better understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent day-to-day routine.

“That has to stay the same,” Bogaerts said without question in his voice. “The league adjusted, they adjusted to me. It kind of took a longer time to adjust to them. They’ve just been pitching me so differently compared to other years.”

Bogaerts has had the point reinforced to him throughout, with Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez serving as one voice of reinforcement.

“When you have a routine from the mental side, physical side, when you struggle that’s when you really need that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been so good with his daily preparation, it doesn’t matter the result of the game. He can always go to something that feels comfortable.”

“He’s been so comfortable and confident with his daily routine and preparation that it allows him -- when he doesn’t get the results he wants in the game -- to have some peace knowing that the next day, we’re going to go back to doing that again.”

It’s clear Bogaerts needs to maintain his daily routine to help work through slumps -- and maintain hot streaks -- but Rodriguez made it clear, consistent preparation from a hitter doesn’t magically cure every problem.

“That doesn’t mean that because you stick with the routine you’re going to have results,” Rodriguez said. “What it means is, [because] you know and believe in that routine that you know you’re going to get out of it.”

Which means in addition to sticking to his normal routine, Bogaerts also had to identify flaws elsewhere in order work through his problems. He came to realize the problem was more mechanically based than mental -- given he’d done everything to address that.

“They pitched me differently, and some stuff I wanted to do with the ball I couldn’t do,” Bogaerts said. “I just continued doing it until I had to make the adjustment back.”

Bogaerts isn’t fully out of the dark, but he’s taken steps in the right direction of late -- and is nowhere near the skid he experienced in 2014. He and Rodriguez fully believe the All-Star’s ability to maintain a clear mind will carry him through whatever troubles he’s presented with the rest of the way.

“The more stuff you have in you’re head is probably not going to help your chances,” Bogaerts explained, “so have a clear mind -- but also have the trust in your swing that you’re going to put a good swing on [the pitch] regardless of whatever the count is.”

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.