BOSTON – With the game tied up at 121 late in the fourth quarter Friday night, it seemed that Rajon Rondo decided he wanted to beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers all by himself.
The veteran point guard lost that battle, and the Celtics in turn lost the game in a 122-121 squeaker to the new-look Cavs.
Boston’s late collapse was finalized by Rondo failing to get a potential game-winning shot attempt up as seven seconds ticked off the clock on the final possession of the game. The ugly finish was a fitting final verse after the hosts managed to blow a 19-point fourth quarter lead.
Boston’s captain also proved responsible for Cleveland’s game-winning point. In what can only be described as a curious matchup, Rondo demanded to guard James in the final minute of a tie game. James drove by Rondo with ease and drew a foul, scoring the game-winning point (his 41st of the night) at the free throw line.
The disappointing final minute overshadowed what had been a stellar effort by Rondo and the Celtics offense for the first three quarters. Rondo dominated the game with his ball movement all night, posting a season-high 16 assists and setting up a balanced Celtics offense that featured seven players scoring in double figures.
With that balance, the Celtics sliced and diced through Cavs defense with a fast pace that made the game look like a track meet. The tempo enabled the Celtics to post a season-high 42 points in the third quarter, en route to the green scoring 101 points through three frames.
The outburst spotted the hosts a 17-point edge heading into the fourth quarter, but, as we know with these Celtics, no lead is safe in the fourth quarter. James and Kyrie Irving (27 points) willed the visitors back into the contest by combining to score 25 of Cleveland’s 38 points over the final 12 minutes. James scored a season-high 41 points, adding to his strong history against the Celtics in which he has averaged more points against the Boston Celtics (31 per game) than any other NBA team.
While there are plenty of positives to take away from portions of this contest, the Celtics proved they aren’t quite ready to hang with the big boys when it matters. It’s early yet, but the lackluster fourth quarter performances continue to be a major issue lingering from last season. Until the Celtics find a solution, stars like LeBron will continue to come into the Garden and have their way when it counts the most.