Cavs Give Best Punch but Can't Overcome Hayward, Celtics at End

Sam Amico

CLEVELAND -- It was a night where you understand why players sometimes wear a mouth guard.

It was clean but physical, not always well-played but undoubtedly hard-fought.

Somehow, someway, the Cavaliers gave an Eastern Conference contender all it could handle.

The verdict: Boston Celtics 119, Cavaliers 113 in front an energized 17,709 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Say this much for this year's Cavaliers -- they are going to make you finish the job. 

Every one of the Cavs’ shots was seemingly challenged, every drive to the basket a major chore, every entry pass an adventure in uncertainty.

Yet there were the Cavs, again, giving themselves a chance until the bitter end. That has been the story of the early season. And it's not a story that many were really expecting.

Not with a first-time NBA coach in John Beilein. Not with a starting rookie guard in Darius Garland, who has now played more NBA games (seven) than he did in college (not quite five).

On top of all that, this is the Celtics (5-1) we're talking about. They're a veteran team with an All-Star point guard in Kemba Walker, a veteran coach in Brad Stevens and a system that is proven to work. When it doesn't, the Celtics just sort of beat on you.

Throw in the fact Celtics small forward Gordon Hayward did his best Larry Bird impersonation, and the Cavs (2-5) didn't stand a chance.

Only they did.

"I kept looking at the scoreboard and I didn't think we were doing very well," Beilein said. "But we told the guys, 'We aren't even playing well and we're only a couple buckets away.'"

Beilein speaks the truth. Despite trailing by 11 points in the first half and 13 in the second, the Cavs turned it into thriller.

With less than two minutes left, Kevin Love missed a 3-pointer that would've tied it. Oddly enough, it may have been his most open look of the night. And if not, it sure was up there, as Love was double- and triple-teamed nearly every time he touched the ball.

He finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, but there's a reason he sat with ice packs on both knees and soaked his feet in a bucket after the game. This was, without question, a basketball battle in every sense.

"We felt we gave ourselves a chance," Love said. "We just couldn't get over the top."

That’s been an ongoing the season for these Cavs. They are putting a team on the floor that takes pride in its effort. Actually winning has been a different matter.

Right now, that is about the only thing that separates them from the Celtics. Well, that and a few players like Haywood, who tied a career-high with 39 points. Or a guy or two like All-Star Kemba Walker (25 points, eight rebounds).

Walker replaced the departed Kyrie Irving at point guard, and the Celtics look like a different bunch. They just seem more cohesive, more willing to find the open man and more determined to do anything necessary to get the win.

"They move the ball the way Cleveland is going to move the ball," Beilein said. "The ball does not stick. They hit the open man. When we move the ball like that we are a much better team. We are trying like crazy to get that done."

Along with Love, the Cavs received admirable performances from Collin Sexton (21 points), Tristan Thompson (19 points, 13 boards), Larry Nance Jr. (15 points) and Cedi Osman and Jordan Clarkson (12 apiece).

Nance was particularly effective in reserve, making 5-of-6 shots, including all three of his 3-pointers. Yes, Junior is reliable from deep this season and it may be time to just accept it.

"He was wearing a splint on his hand before the game, so we were a little worried," Beilein said. "But that's what we envision Larry being able to do -- come in and make shots. He was 3-for-3 (on threes), so he can keep the splint on all year long."

In the end, though, it was too much Hayward, who followed in a missed shot with less than a minute left to put it away.

"What he does really well is he stops on a dime," Beilein explained. "He reads screens so well and is a tough matchup for everybody. He's playing like he did before the injury (to his foot, suffered in Cleveland to open the 2018 season)."

Jayson Tatum added 18 points for the Celtics, and rookie Carsen Edwards came off the bench to score 13. 

The Cavs shot 42 percent from the field (40-of-96), compared to 57 percent for the Celtics (48-of-85). Hayward finished a sizzling 17-of-20 shooting, making all 16 of his twos on a truly remarkable night.

Anyway, there is no rest for the Cavs, as they now hit the road for three straight, starting Friday at Washington.

But that's OK. This team isn't showing any signs of wanting to let up. Through seven games, it's been quite the opposite.

"That's just the way it goes in the NBA," Love said. "You've gotta continue to fight and continue to scrap."

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

So glad I can read an objective article about the baby Cavs without seeing LeBron James name anywhere.