David Richard/USA TODAY Sports
Kyrie Irving torched the Celtics early and often on Tuesday night in Cleveland.Despite his team losing its fourth straight game and dipping back below .500 with a 95-90 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't sound off on his players during his postgame press conference the way he did following Sunday's 103-88 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Rivers acknowledged Boston's inconsistent play on both ends on Tuesday, but also recognized the overall effort as an improvement over Sunday. The Celtics' defense was ineffective early in Tuesday's loss, as the Cavaliers rattled off 31 points in the first quarter. And just as the defense began to improve, Boston's offense went south, as the C's shot a mere 26.8 percent in the second half, including 21.7 percent in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving was in the midst of scoring a game-high 40 points, with 15 of those coming over the final 12 minutes.
"I thought we played in stretches, in spurts," Rivers told reporters. "I thought the first quarter, offensively, we were terrific and defensively we were bad. We gave up 31 points in the first quarter. I thought the third quarter probably set the game of basketball back 30 years by both teams. And then the fourth quarter, we didn't get much better offensively, and Kyrie Irving happened. I think he had 15 points in the fourth. ... And he made some tough shots. But we couldn't convert. We just, offensively, we had those flat periods, and when we are good when we have those flat periods, we get stops. And right now we're not when we have droughts."
Rivers highlighted several key miscues that led to Boston's demise in the second half, including one sequence late in the fourth quarter in which Rajon Rondo tracked down a loose ball on Cleveland's end, but his attempt to save it ended up in the hands of Irving, who put in a layup to give the Cavs an 86-83 lead with two minutes to play.
"Listen, they scored 95 points. We want to get it under that, but 95 points is not a bad number," Rivers said. "You want their percentage to be a little bit lower, but overall, it was, to me, in the second half, it was more of our offense. We turned the ball over. I think we only had five turnovers at halftime, or six, and we had 12 in the second half. You don't ever get an attempt at the basket, and those killed us.
"And then we just had little breakdowns. Out of a timeout, four guys ran zone, one in a man, they get a layup; a transition basket off a make when we're supposed to be back on defense. Even Rondo's play -- you know, obviously you don't throw the ball to Kyrie, but my question to our team: Where was everyone else? Rondo ran from under the basket to under the basket, and when he saved the ball, there was no one to save it to. No one was there."
Rivers went on to note an improved effort compared to Sunday's loss in Detroit, but still questioned his team's ability to focus for an entire game.
"Right now, we're mentally -- we're just not there for 48 minutes," Rivers said. "Today was better than Detroit. I guess that's the positive. Offensively, the game plan early on was exactly what we did. We did it, we scored, but then we couldn't get stops. So, you know, as a coach you've just got to keep pushing."
Rivers admitted he voted for Irving as an All-Star reserve, but said it wasn't an easy decision because of the Cavaliers' 11-32 record. Irving showed his All-Star potential throughout Tuesday's win, though Rivers clearly didn't agree with the blocking foul that was called on Jared Sullinger when Irving made contact with him on a drive with 22 seconds left that put the game out of reach.
"Early on [Irving] did a lot -- back cuts, he made some tough shots. Our coverages weren't great," Rivers said. "We trapped him in the third quarter and that took him away from it, but this is why he's so good. He's clever enough to figure it out.
"In the fourth quarter he just rejected all picks and rolls. He wouldn't go to one. And he's good enough to do that. Now, we should never let a guy with the big play -- the layup where Jared got the charge that wasn't called -- that was a reject. We were trying to send him to the pick to trap him, he's crafty enough and good enough to get away from it. Now that's on us, that part. But that's also on him. If it was that easy, he wouldn't be Kyrie Irving."