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Short-handed Cavs make history with comeback to beat Celtics | Jeff Schudel

Mar. 5—Coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the Cavaliers showed effort only "in spurts" March 3 when they were beaten, 107-98, by an injured-riddled Knicks team.

Forty-eight hours later, the Cavs dug deep for all the willpower they could muster to overcome a 22-point fourth-quarter deficit and stun the Celtics, record-wise the best team in the NBA, 105-104.

It was the largest fourth-quarter comeback in franchise history. The Cavs have been around since the 1970-71 season.

The Celtics (48-13) walked into Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on an 11-game winning streak. As they headed out of town, they might have boarded their charter jet bound for Denver for a March 7 game with the Nuggets with a little doubt in their minds. If the Cavaliers finish as the second seed in the East, the Cavs and Celtics would meet for the conference championship if neither team is upset along the way.

"It didn't look good for us with nine minutes left. I looked up at the crowd, and people were leaving." — #Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen on the Cavs overcoming a 22-point deficit to beat the Celtics, 105-104. pic.twitter.com/7PZDHZEtHB

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) March 6, 2024

"It's a great win, there's no doubt about it," Bickerstaff said. "How we got it, to be down and to be able to come back and win it, it's a huge win for us. I think it's a confidence boost for our guys to understand what they're capable of.

"I don't really get into signature wins, but it's definitely a win you can look back on and gain confidence and belief."

It was huge, not just because they climbed out of a Grand Canyon-sized hole, but because Donovan Mitchell and Max Strus were out at the start of the game with knee injuries and because Evan Mobley suffered a sprained left ankle in the third quarter and did not return.

Mobley was seen leaning on a pair of crutches as he left the locker room. His ankle appeared swollen. The injury means he is very unlikely to play March 6 when the Cavs visit the Hawks in Atlanta. It doesn't look promising for the home game with the Timberwolves on March 8, either.

Tonight is Travis Kelce and Jason Kelce bobble heads night at the Celtics-Cavs game. The two #NFL stars went to Cleveland Heights High School. Here is the video tribute to Jason. pic.twitter.com/DdnWZu2UrT

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) March 6, 2024

Mitchell has already been ruled out for the Atlanta and Minnesota games and might miss more time. Mitchell received a Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injection March 4 to treat a left knee bone bruise.

Bickerstaff had no update on when Strus might be available again. He played all 60 games before not being able to answer the bell against the Celtics.

"We'll have to wait and see," Bickerstaff said. "It was something he has been dealing with. The other night (March 3) he tried to take off and dunk and it really bothered him. It's Max. If he misses a game, you know he's bothered by it. It's just something we have to take our time with and go from there."

The point is, if the Cavs without Mitchell and Strus and without Mobley for part of the game can beat a healthy Boston team, there is reason to believe they can make the Celtics sweat in a seven-game playoff series.

The Cavs needed an unlikely hero to respond to the Celtics in the fourth quarter. They found one in Dean Wade. Wade outscored the Celtics by himself over the final 12 minutes — 20-17. He was 5-for-5 on 3s, hit two two-point buckets and split a pair of free throws. It was a stark turnaround from the first half when Wade was 1 of 4 on 3s. The Cavs trailed, 55-45, at halftime.

"I went into halftime, and my teammates and the coaching staff were like, 'You shoot it a hundred times in a row. I don't care if you miss all hundred, you're going to shoot 'em every single time,'" he said.

"Them having that confidence in me really motivated me and gave me confidence. I came out in the fourth quarter and they found me every single time I was open."

Bickerstaff didn't want to call what happened a signature win. Jarrett Allen, who scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, politely disagreed.

"Absolutely," Allen said. "I mean, the Celtics are the No. 1 seed right now. Everybody's chasing 'em. They're far ahead right now. Eight wins ahead of us, and we played till the final buzzer. And, no, it didn't go perfectly for us. No, we didn't have everybody, but we still played our basketball and we got things together."

Allen noted he looked up into the crowd when the Cavs were down, 93-71, with nine minutes to play and saw people leaving the FieldHouse.

Those who stuck around shouting "Defense! Defense!" until the end would probably call it a signature win, too.