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.