- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Two days after fumbling away a double-digit lead in the final four minutes, the Boston Celtics (9-10, 3-4 away) wrap up a home-and-home series against the Cleveland Cavaliers (8-11, 3-4 home) Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena (7 p.m., CSN). To preview the matchup, we go 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brendan Jackson.
1. What was the most discouraging part of Sunday's loss to Cleveland?
Payne: The Celtics' inability to get a stop on Cleveland's game-winning possession. The C's had to know a pick-and-roll involving Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao was coming, yet it didn't seem like they were fully prepared to handle it. Watch the replay and you'll notice that Avery Bradley slams right into Varejao's screen, which indicates he had zero idea it was there. That breaks down to poor communication on the part of his teammates and poor court awareness on Bradley's end. The C's had the pieces they needed to make a defensive stand, but those pieces didn't execute as well as they could have.
Jackson: The last five minutes of the fourth quarter. Everything the Celtics did up until that point was pretty impressive. They played great defense. They shot over 50 percent from the field. They were out-rebounding the Cavs at that point. If the game lasted 43 minutes, the Celtics would have dominated in a 10 point victory.
Forsberg: Points in the paint. The Celtics surrendered a season-high 54 points in the paint (the previous high was 52 in Miami in December), which accounted for 61.3 percent of Cleveland's total output. That includes 12 points in the paint in the fourth quarter (most notable being Irving's winning bucket). While Boston was content to settle for perimeter jumpers (and led late because they were making them at a high rate, shooting 52.2 percent for the game), the Celtics lost the game by giving up easy points around the basket (and being unable to get easy buckets of their own at the other end).
2. Did Paul Pierce have any right to vent about his fourth-quarter playing time after Sunday's loss?
Payne: Sort of. It's strange because the Celtics did have an 11-point lead with just over four minutes to play and, at that time, they were increasing their lead, so I can understand Doc Rivers' hesitation to put Pierce back in at that point, given the need to rest the veterans as much as possible. But I can understand Pierce's frustrations given the fact that, had he been in earlier, the lead could have blossomed to, say, 15 or more. I think for Pierce it was a matter of not waiting for Cleveland to sniff a chance at a comeback, and for Rivers it was a matter of hoping his reserves could grind out the win so his stars could get some always-needed rest.
Jackson: Sure, but I think the cause of Pierce's frustrations is up for debate. Pierce isn't one to publicly call out his team or his coach's decisions. Pierce's frustrations were most likely caused by one or more of the following reasons: the bad loss, the lack of offensive execution down the stretch, the turnovers, the shortened season, and/or his playing time down the stretch. And let me clarify that last reason. The lack of playing time didn't frustrate Pierce because he doesn't believe in his teammates, but more because he's a competitor and he wants to have an affect on the game. The sad part was that he had every opportunity to win the game and he didn't.
Forsberg: No, Pierce was misguided in his anger. While I think it's actually a good thing that Pierce was so emotional after the Celtics gave that game away, appropriating his frustration on lack of fourth-quarter playing time was a poor choice, and I think he realized it as that interview went on. Let's remember that Pierce came in with a seven-point lead, missed two shots (even if he probably got fouled once, you can't rely on whistles), turned the ball over once, and didn't get up a shot before the final buzzer. He had plenty of chances to help prevent a bad loss and didn't do it. If Boston had held on to win, he likely wouldn't have complained about the additional rest.
3. Prediction time: How do you see Tuesday's game playing out?
Payne: Celtics win, somewhat convincingly. I see a big game from Paul Pierce, mainly because I've never seen the man as angry and dejected as he was following Sunday's loss. I can totally see Pierce entering Tuesday's bout with a renewed focus and a ruthless mindset. He's going to want to lay the hammer down on Cleveland early, and cancel out any hopes of another miracle comeback.
Jackson: I see the Celtics winning this game. Despite the looming back-to-back, the Celtics will most likely step on the gas with their starters rather than try to coast through the fourth with their bench. There's also a good chance both Rajon Rondo and Jermaine O'Neal will be back in the starting lineup thus restoring order to the rotation.
Forsberg: The only danger the Celtics face here is whether they gave the Cavaliers too much confidence with how that last game ended. If Cleveland picks up where it left off and wins the hustle battles, while generating points around the basket, this won't be easy. If Boston comes out angry and puts the hammer down early, it's unlikely we'll see another comeback. An X-factor: If Rondo is back in the lineup, let's see how he respond physically, both with the ailing right wrist and conditioning-wise after sitting out six straight games. [Update: Doc Rivers said at the team's shootaround in Cleveland that Rondo is out, but Jermaine O'Neal is likely to play].
Two days after fumbling away a double-digit lead in the final four minutes, the Boston Celtics (9-10, 3-4 away) wrap up a home-and-home series against the Cleveland Cavaliers (8-11, 3-4 home) Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena (7 p.