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THE NITTY GRITTY
Kyrie Irving exploded for 40 points on 16-of-24 shooting, pairing with Tristan Thompson (21 points, nine rebounds) to pace the Cavaliers. Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists, while Paul Pierce (12 points on cringe-worthy 3-of-15 shooting, seven rebounds), Kevin Garnett (16 points, five rebounds, five blocks) and Jared Sullinger (12 points and 10 rebounds) all scored in double figures for Boston.
A back-and-forth game for its entirety, the Celtics kept things close throughout the fourth quarter, but Irving proved to be too much down the stretch. Irving put in 15 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter, including the final seven for Cleveland. As Boston repeatedly failed to convert on the offensive end over the final few minutes, Irving sliced to the rim, putting in a transition layup with 52 seconds to play and coming back with an old-fashioned three-point play with 22 ticks left, fouling out Sullinger in the process (who nearly drew the charge in a one-possession game). Irving made the bucket and the free throw to give the Cavs a six-point lead that Boston couldn't overcome.
SULLINGER SHINES AGAIN
This was a bit of a homecoming for rookie Sullinger, with the game taking place a little more than two hours away from his native Columbus. Despite fouling out with 22 seconds to play on what could be considered a questionable charge call, Sullinger produced his fourth career double-double, providing a much-needed spark of energy by coming through with eight points and seven rebounds over his first nine minutes on the court. While he battled his now-customary foul trouble, Sullinger was Boston's only spark off the bench and coach Doc Rivers elected to pair him with Garnett along the frontline down the stretch.
BOLD STRETCH OF THE GAME
Bradley, who weathered a mild head cold and the rib injury he's still recovering from, gave the Celtics some needed separation midway through the third quarter. He came through with a loud pin-on-the-backboard block on Dion Waiters in transition and followed the defensive stop with back-to-back transition 3-pointers from the right corner. The second one gave Boston a 64-58 lead, which tied its largest lead of the game at the time.
WHAT IT MEANS
Not only did the Celtics drop their fourth straight game and slip below .500 again (20-21), but they failed to come out with the sense of urgency Rivers was likely looking for following his heavy criticism of his club in the wake of Sunday's 103-88 loss to the Pistons. Boston's defense was non-existent in the opening quarter, and aside from a decent stretch midway through the third frame, the Celtics showed little in the way of inspired ball. With a back-to-back looming Thursday and Friday against playoff-caliber opponents in New York and Atlanta, Boston will have to regroup quickly and bring out the needed effort to get this rocky season on the right track.