Celtics-Cavaliers review: What we saw


Celtics-Cavaliers review: What we saw

CLEVELAND It wasn't pretty, but the Boston Celtics finally got off their losing snide with a hard-fought, 86-83 win over Cleveland. If you didn't watch the game and only had to go by Doc Rivers' body language afterward, you would have thought the C's got trounced by 20. "It's a win," a visibly unhappy Rivers said afterward. "That's all it is for us." In a game that began with such promise - Boston led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter - soon turned into a fight for survival.

There were many factors that contributed to the C's squeaking out a game that early on had the makings of a rare Celtics blowout.

We'll take a look back at some that we identified prior to the Celtics snapping their five-game losing streak with a much-needed win over Cleveland.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Don't be surprised if the Celtics try to get Ray Allen going early in the game. For one thing, it hasn't happened that often so it would probably catch the Cavaliers off-guard. Also, he has a favorable matchup (Daniel Gibson) who is smaller and thus provides the potential for Allen to showcase his all-around game which does include from time to time, scoring in the post.

WHAT WE SAW - Ray Allen didn't put on an all-around show, but he did manage to put his imprint on the game early. Allen hit a couple of big 3s in the first quarter, which paved the way for a 22-point game on 8-for-13 shooting from the field. In addition to the scoring, Allen also managed well defensively. Anthony Parker started at shooting guard, and missed all four of his shots. The Cavs went to Daniel Gibson off the bench, and he was just as bad with two points on 1-for-7 shooting.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Rajon Rondo vs Kyrie Irving: This will be Rondo's first meeting against Irving this season. In the two previous matchups, Rondo did not play because of a wrist injury suffered against Toronto on Jan. 18. Irving is averaging 22 points in the two games against the Celtics, which includes the game-winner in an 88-87 win at the Garden on Jan. 29.
WHAT WE SAW - Rondo got the win, but you have to give this matchup to the rookie. Not only did he score a game-high 24 points, but he did by beating Rondo off the dribble at times, with and without the use of a pick-and-roll. Rondo had a typical Rondo night with a game-high 11 assists, but he missed all six of his shots from the field and turned the ball over five times. "We're all human. We're not going to play well every night," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, referring specifically to Rondo's game.
PLAYER TO WATCH - Brandon Bass makes his return after missing six games with a left knee injury. Of course his 11.6 points per game will help. But his presence should also provide a boost to other Celtics - namely Ray Allen and Paul Pierce - having better shots at the basket, and thus leading to a Celtics team that puts up a lot more points. "Brandon is now a part of a lot of what we do," Allen told CSNNE.com. "We count on him I think he's a great scorer. But he's under-rated in some of the other things that he can do."

WHAT WE SAW - After making his first five shots, Bass went on to miss six of his next seven. Still, for a guy who hadn't played since Feb. 10, Bass' game didn't seem to miss a beat as he finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists.

STAT TO TRACK - Controlling or at the very least, competing on the boards will be huge for the Celtics. In their loss to Cleveland on Jan. 29, the C's were minus-4 on the boards and minus-6 on the offensive glass. The struggles that night on the offensive boards mirrored a major problem for Boston all season. Boston is minus-103 this season on the offensive boards, easily the worst offensive rebounding team in the NBA. In fact, no other NBA team has allowed even 80 more offensive rebounds than they were able to grab. And in Cleveland, you're talking about the second-best offensive rebounding team in the NBA, with 13.2 per game.

WHAT WE SAW - The Celtics continue to be a bad offensive rebounding team, and Tuesday's effort won't do anything to change that perception. Cleveland had 11 offensive rebounds compared to just five for Boston. But here's the crazy part. Boston still managed to outscore the Cavs in second-chance points, 15-10. And arguably the biggest play of the game was Kevin Garnett grabbing his own miss in the game's final seconds, and being fouled on the play. He went to the free throw line and made both free throws that ultimately turned out to be the game-winning points.

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

BOSTON -- Malcolm Subban still believes he can be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

While that sort of sheer, brazen self-confidence is admirable -- especially after getting yanked from a 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden Tuesday -- pretty much all the evidence points to the contrary. Given a shot because of injuries to Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, nearly two years after getting pulled from his only other NHL appearance when he gave up three goals on six shots in St. Louis, Subban was taken out Tuesday night after allowing three goals on eight second-period shots.

He maintained a defiantly confident tone afterwards, a testament to his maturity and mental toughness.

“It sucks," said Subban, who has now allowed six goals on 22 career shots faced in two starts. “Obviously, I’m just trying to finish the game, let alone win one . . . but what can you do now, right?

"Obviously I want to be a No. 1 goaltender in the league. I was a [first-round draft choice] for a reason. I have the potential, and I just have to show it. Obviously I haven’t done that so far yet, but I think I’m getting closer to it. Honestly, I think I can do it right now. I just got to show it . . . I didn’t [do it] today, but tomorrow’s a new day.”

Given the stunningly bad quality of his two NHL starts, combined with a thoroughly pedestrian body of work at the AHL level over the last three years, there is literally zero evidence Subban is tracking to be a franchise goaltender. Meanwhile, a sizeable selection of goaltenders taken after him in the 2012 NHL Draft have proven their worth and advanced to the elite level: Matt Murray. Frederik Anderson. Connor Hellebuyck. Joonas Korpisalo.

Subban was hoping all along to break through this season in Boston, but things went south on him quickly Tuesday in his first chance to do so.

Hampered by a Bruins team not playing well in front of him, the first goal he allowed was a fluttering Charlie Coyle shot that trickled between his glove hand and the top of his leg pad. The third was a softie low and to the glove side, a power-play strike authored by Ryan Suter. Instead of hanging in and giving his team a chance to win, Subban helped put the Bruins in a hole they couldn't escape.

While Claude Julien felt the poor performance "could be a combination" of goaltending and overall defensive lapses, he didn't let Subban off the hook.

“There are some goals -- I’m not going to lie -- there are some goals that we thought our goaltenders should have had," said the coach.

But he also wasn't going to place the blame solely at Subban's feet.

"[I’m] not here to talk about a goaltender -- who’s in one of his first few games -- because he let in a couple of bad goals,” said Julien. “We were terrible in front of him . . .  and that’s the big picture. That’s more important.

“I don’t care who’s in net. I think when you have some injuries you need to be better in those situations and we weren’t good enough tonight. It doesn’t matter if Tuukka is in net and we had injuries up front, or we’re lacking players here or there. You’ve got to let the system take care of the game. If you play it the right way, you have a chance to win. When you don’t, you don’t. That’s what happened [against Minnesota].”

There’s no question the defense in front of Subban wasn’t nearly good enough. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug in particular struggled to lock things down in the defensive zone. The wide-open shots from the slot -- like the Chris Stewart score in the second period 12 seconds after Minnesota’s opening goal -- are indicative of a hockey club that’s not sticking to the game plan once things start to get a little wonky.

But this is about a player (Subban) who should be entering the NHL stage of his career after being a first-round pick in 2012. Anybody would be hard-pressed to see him as an NHL goalie after his two Bruins appearances. Combine that with the lack of dominance at the AHL level over the last three years, and there’s a better chance that Subban will be a major first-round bust rather than a late-blooming No. 1 goaltender.

The scary part is that Subban and fellow young netminder Zane McIntyre are all the Bruins have for Wednesday night’s game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and perhaps longer if Rask can’t make a rapid recovery from his lower body injury.

Maybe Subban can be a bit better than he’s shown thus far, and, to be fair, the three goals allowed to Minnesota weren't all his fault. The bottom line, however, is that he should be up for doing this job right now. Tuesday was a big chance for the young goalie to make a statement that he was ready for it.

Instead he looked like the same goalie who'd been pulled from two of his first four AHL starts this season, one who's never going to truly be ready for the call in Boston.