Celtics

3 takeaways as Kevin Love, Cavaliers snap 11-game losing streak with win over Celtics

Jayson Tatum drives against Cleveland's Dean Wade in the first half. AP Photo/Tony Dejak

The Celtics fell to the Cavaliers 102-94 on Wednesday, as Cleveland won the fourth quarter by 10 points en route to the victory.

Here’s what happened.

The big picture

The Celtics dropped their fourth game in a row, this time to a Cavaliers team that snapped an 11-game losing streak and damaged their own lottery odds. A tight game throughout was blown open in the fourth quarter largely thanks to Kevin Love’s 3-point explosion (6-for-9 behind the arc).

The Celtics were short-handed as well, missing Robert Williams, Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and — of course — Jaylen Brown, but losing another game to a team bound for the lottery is a bad look regardless of the circumstances.

Star of the game

Kevin Love — 30 points, 10-for-16 from the floor, 6-for-9 from 3-point range, 14 rebounds.

Love lit up the Celtics from deep in the second half with a vintage performance. With Darius Garland out, the Cavaliers still managed to find plenty of offense against a porous Celtics defense that seemed incapable of getting a stop in the fourth quarter.

What it means

With the loss, the Celtics are officially headed to the play-in game, and it’s probably time to wonder whether this dispirited-looking bunch has the juice to win a game and make the actual playoffs. If they do, they will face Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets fresh off getting James Harden back in the lineup, or Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

If they lose both play-in games, they will end up in the lottery.

Takeaways

1. Early in the game, the NBC Sports Boston broadcast caught Brad Stevens yelling, “We have to be more aggressive” as the Celtics moved the ball aimlessly around the perimeter. Stevens was right, but the Celtics never really got going to the rim until late in the second half when Jayson Tatum started attacking the rim consistently. Tatum finished with 29 points on 11-for-26 shooting, just 1-for-6 from behind the arc.

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Brian Scalabrine noted on the broadcast how the Celtics have failed recently to generate offense going downhill toward the basket, which has been an issue for several games. The Celtics are often content to shoot 3-pointers or pull up a few steps inside the line rather than get to the basket and earn free throws. Long-range shooting is efficient, but collapsing the defense generates better looks.

2. The Cavaliers broke the game open with a 13-3 run late in the game when Tatum went to the bench. That will be a struggle for the Celtics the rest of the way — without Jaylen Brown to take pressure off Tatum, he will have to play a lot of high-pressure, high-intensity minutes. When he’s off the floor, the Celtics will struggle. When he’s on the floor, defenses will key in on him.

Getting a full complement of players back will help — missing Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart made his job particularly difficult. But Tatum might have a lot of hard work ahead.

3. The Celtics almost certainly won’t consider this as a legitimate possibility, but losing out could benefit them greatly. Getting a shot at a late lottery pick (with a sub-10 percent shot at a potentially franchise-changing rookie at the top of a loaded draft class) might be preferable to getting bounced in 4-5 games by one of the Sixers, Nets, or Bucks.

That won’t be how the team approaches things — even in Brad Stevens’ first season, the organization made it clear they were trying to win with a subpar roster. Quietly, though, it’s worth wondering whether the Celtics’ front office might prefer to miss the postseason entirely.

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