The NBA-leading Boston Celtics struggled at the start of their five-game road trip, but finished strong and capped it with a rout of a lowly opponent.
On Wednesday, they open a five-game homestand hoping some of that momentum carries over into a meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Celtics (43-12) began their trip with a season-high three-game losing streak before ending the skid with a 112-102 victory at Portland on Sunday. They closed the road swing Monday with an easy 104-76 win over the last-place Los Angeles Clippers.
“We started out with three tough games against three quality opponents and we faced some adversity, but we didn’t waiver from what we’ve been wanting to do and what our goals were,” said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who had 15 points and seven assists Monday.
“The last game of a road trip is always the toughest game because you have a tendency of wanting to be back home.”
Now, the Celtics return to Boston, where they are an Eastern Conference-best 23-4 while outscoring opponents by an average of 15.7 points in those victories. They have won five in a row at home with Paul Pierce averaging 23.8 points during that span.
Pierce, though, was erratic during the road trip despite finishing the five-game stretch averaging 20.4 points. The Celtics’ leader with 20.6 points per game, Pierce had one of his worst shooting performances in Friday’s loss to Phoenix, going 2-for-13 for eight points. He responded to that by scoring 30 points against the Trail Blazers before putting up 17 at Los Angeles.
Pierce hasn’t been very consistent against the Cavaliers (32-25), averaging 14.0 points in three meetings this season.
Boston has only managed to win one of those matchups, an 80-70 home victory on Dec. 2 behind 20 points from Allen. The Celtics have lost nine of their last 11 meetings with Cleveland, both wins coming at home.
The Cavs, meanwhile, are looking to rebound from a 105-102 loss at Milwaukee on Tuesday as Michael Redd hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer. LeBron James tied the game with 5.9 seconds to go before Redd halted Cleveland’s three-game win streak.
“There’s nothing you can do about that,” James said. “The guy made a 35-footer fading away. You know, we made plays, gave ourselves a chance to win, but a big shot cost us.”
James finished with 35 points Tuesday, increasing his league-leading average to 30.2. The All-Star forward, however, is aware that Cleveland needs some time to adjust to four new players acquired in an 11-player, three-team trade before last Thursday’s trade deadline.
“We’ve still got a lot to go,” James said. “It wasn’t going to turn around right away. I said we were going to need a few weeks to get everything in motion.”
Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak have only played two games since being acquired in the blockbuster deal. Those four combined to outscore James by four points on 15-for-43 shooting (34.8 percent) against the Bucks with Wallace grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds.
James has been outstanding in his last nine games against Boston, averaging 35.4 points on 51.2 percent shooting. He was brilliant in a 114-113 win over Boston on Feb. 5, tallying 33 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and five steals.