BOSTON -- For a while, Wednesday's Celtics-Cavaliers game looked like it might be a delicious midseason matchup. There was potential for Isaiah Thomas to make a revenge-seeking return to TD Garden, plus a new chapter in the LeBron James-Kyrie Irving rivalry.
Thomas not only didn't play but apparently buried the hatchet with Celtics GM Danny Ainge; the two texted before the game and then embraced in the hallway between the locker rooms before the opening tip. At Thomas' request, the Celtics held off on showing a tribute video until the Cavs come back to town, but he was shown on the scoreboard coming out of a timeout in the first half and received a standing ovation.
Any venom lingering between James and Irving was wasted as the disinterested and perhaps fatigued Cavs continued to look as if they'd been transported back to October.
As is their norm, the Celtics were engaged defensively, and they didn't meet the type of resistance they usually get from Cleveland as they cruised to a 102-88 victory.
"Listen, they played at a high level tonight, and they've been playing extremely well at home and on the road at times as well," James said. "They gave us a good one tonight."
The Cavs had been 14-3 against Boston dating to the 2015 playoffs, but they've been mired in an offensive slump since Christmas. The Celtics' defense was on its game, getting into passing lanes and forcing the Cavs out of their sets, not that there was much resistance as the Cavs were lethargic and didn't match the energy.
Cleveland has lost four of five and is shooting a miserable 38 percent in the losses and averaging just 94 points. Kevin Love shot 1-of-11, Dwyane Wade was 2-of-10, Jeff Green was 3-of-11, and Jae Crowder was 2-of-12 in his return to Boston.
The Cavs' only reprieve was Tuesday when they got a jolt from Thomas, whose 17 points off the bench ignited the offense in a win over Portland in his season debut.
Wednesday's game was Boston's 41st game of the season, the most in the NBA as they head toward a scheduling quirk next week when they play just one game in nine days because of a trip to London. They aren't used to having the rest advantage they did on the Cavs, who were playing the second game of a back-to-back. It showed early and often.
"Obviously they don't have all their guys, and for us, we're just getting back into what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish as a team," Irving said. "I'm pretty sure we'll probably have a better sense of both teams on Feb. 11."
That's when the teams meet again, also in Boston.
There wasn't much action between James and Irving, who ended up matched up with each other only a few times without any fireworks. James had 19 points, sitting down the stretch, and Irving had just 11, missing all five of his 3-pointers. There's a possibility these teams could play up to eight more times this season if they end up as playoff opponents, but this one wasn't memorable.
The Cavs made just eight 3-pointers, snapping their streak of 26 straight games with at least 10 triples, which was tied for the third-longest streak in NBA history.
"I don't know who we are or who we can be until we get I.T. back consistently," James said. "We haven't played as well as of late, so we're trying to figure that out as well. We'll be fine."