BOSTON — After he brought them back from a 19-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter, Kyrie Irving wasn’t given the opportunity to extend a wild day for the Cavaliers.
He scored 12 of the Cavaliers’ 34 points in the fourth, but Irving never touched the ball in the final 10 seconds when they had two different opportunities to tie the game and force overtime.
On a day the Cavaliers separated themselves from Andrew Bynum and rallied from a 22-point deficit in the second half, an equally surprising twist was Irving’s lack of involvement in the final moments of the Boston Celtics’ 103-100 victory Saturday at TD Garden Center.
The Cavs trailed 102-100 when they took a timeout with 19.3 seconds left to design perhaps one play at the buzzer. Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said the idea was to get the ball to Irving on the weak side, or allow Dion Waiters to attack the rim if he felt he had an advantage coming out of a pick-and-roll.
When the Celtics switched on the pick-and-roll and Waiters was paired against the 6-foot-8 Brandon Bass, he went with Plan B and drove the lane, but Bass was able to get position and block the shot at the rim.
“The last couple of possessions down the floor, I thought Dion did a nice job of turning the corner, playing pick-and-roll and getting to the rim,” Brown said. “So if he had the ability to do that right away, go ahead and do that … attack the rim.”
Irving takes nearly all of the Cavs’ last-second shots, but Waiters took advantage of the freedom to take one for himself.
“Everybody knows who Coach is going to draw up the play for,” said Waiters, who thought Bass fouled him despite not getting the call. “It’s just taking an opportunity when it’s given. I felt once I had Bass on me, I feel like he can’t guard me or stay in front of me.
“Coach drew a play up, if the one side didn’t work, go to the other. That’s what we did.”
The Cavs were forced to foul, but let 7.5 precious seconds tick away before Avery Bradley was finally fouled. Those seconds were ultimately fairly important.
Bradley split the free throws, leaving the Cavs 1.4 seconds to tie the game and force overtime. But Irving barely moved from the corner opposite the inbounds pass, and with few other options, Jarrett Jack tossed the ball to Earl Clark at the top of the 3-point line. Brown said the final play was botched because guys started moving too soon.
“We executed that wrong,” Brown said. “It was designed to get the ball to Kyrie, possibly, but they switched and took us out of it after we moved too soon.”
Clark compounded the problems by failing to get a shot off. The Celtics’ switching left him with Bradley defending him, who is 8 inches shorter. But Clark was surprised to be holding the ball and inexplicably rattled by Bradley’s presence, so he took a dribble, which allowed the clock to run out before he could get off a shot.
“He’s a high jumper and he’s got long arms,” Clark said. “When I caught the ball, I probably should have shot it, but I thought it might get blocked. He was right up on me. I didn’t have time to do anything else, but by that time it was too late.”
The day began with news the Cavs were suspending Bynum indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. He has likely played his last game for the Cavs, which will begin shopping his team-friendly contract immediately. If they can trade him before Jan.
7, it can be a cap savings for both the Cavs (who are presently at the cap limit) and the team that acquires his contract, since it’s only partially guaranteed. A team that acquires Bynum could waive him and save $6 million in cap space.
“It’s just a terrible situation internally with our team,” Irving said before the game. “It’s just something we have to get over.”
Brown wouldn’t address Bynum’s situation directly or offer any hints as to whether he can return to the team, simply saying over and over, “he’s suspended indefinitely and we all know what that means.”
The Cavs’ defense was terrible in the first half, when the Celtics shot 58 percent and scored 59 points. The lead swelled to 69-47 early in the third quarter before the Cavs’ furious fourth-quarter rally.
Irving scored 32 points, Waiters had 17 off the bench and Anderson Varejao had six points and eight rebounds starting in place of Bynum. Tyler Zeller, with his most extended minutes in weeks, had 10 rebounds off the bench.
Ultimately, it didn’t really matter.
“We got it to the open guy,” Irving said of the final two plays. “Dion tried to make a crucial play at a crucial time, came up a little short. But this could have been avoided from quarters previous to this. We’ve just got to get off to better starts so we don’t put ourselves down in a big hole like that.”
The Cavs have lost four straight and six of their last seven.
“We’ve got another one tomorrow. That’s what we have to think about,” Varejao said. “Tough loss. It was a tough loss against Atlanta. But I really believe we are getting better. It’s just a matter of time before we start winning.”