The Boston Celtics came into Monday night’s matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers on tenuous ground.
They were obliterated in Game 3 by 30 points, which called into question once again Boston’s ability to win on the road, where they were 1-5 thus far in the postseason. The Celtics still held a 2-1 lead in the series, but their advantage was seen as slight at best.
Coming into the night, most of the national media were betting heavily on the Cavaliers because they didn’t believe the Celtics could withstand another barrage of threes combined with LeBron James on the loose. It is worth noting that Tom Donaghey-Lite version Scott Foster was one of the refs doing Game 4, minus his usual partner-in-crime Tony Brothers.
The Celtics looked to Al Horford early, and while Horford missed his first shot he came back and had a chase-down block on Tristan Thompson. Boston seemed to put the early emphasis on Horford because he didn’t take a shot in the first quarter of Game 3. The Celtics started out making some shots but went through a massive drought midway through the quarter.
J.R. Smith hit a couple of shots from beyond the arc, and the Cavaliers got several fast-break layups forcing the Celtics to call a timeout down six midway through the quarter. The Celtics switched up their reserves, putting in rookie Semi Ojeleye for Aron Baynes and Ojeleye immediately hit a three from the corner.
There was no stopping James and Kevin Love though. The duo kept the Cleveland lead at six with the Celtics unable to make a stop. With Horford and Terry Rozier on the bench late in the quarter, the Cavaliers opened up a 13 point lead and aided by three missed Celtic dunks and took a 34-18 lead going into the second quarter.
The Celtics came out a little wobbly in the second quarter but settled down, hitting some alley-oops and getting some steals on the defensive end. However, their offense continued to look limited against a suddenly resurgent Cavaliers defense. Baynes came out aggressive in the second, hitting some baskets and playing solid defense.
Down 14, Rozier hit back to back threes to keep the Celtics in the game. The Cavaliers were seemingly making every play, but the Celtics kept quietly climbing back into it. They chipped the lead down to 10 with just four to play in the half.
Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown hit big threes, but the Celtics defense had yet to really show up. The Cavaliers went on another run punctuated by another awful Marcus Smart turnover and a Tristan Thompson dunk. Cleveland went into the locker room up 68-53 at the half with the Celtics once again unraveling at the end of a quarter.
The third quarter was a very back and forth quarter. The Celtics took and gave punches throughout the quarter, with Rozier and James going back and forth. The Celtics’ defense was finally showing up, but their offense was missing key threes and free throws. They fought and clawed their way back into the game with just under three minutes to go in the third.
That’s when the refs came into play. Foster and company began calling a series of blatantly bad calls, stacking up the foul trouble on Boston, and once again, the Celtics failed to close a quarter strong. The Cavaliers took a 15 point lead heading into the final minute of play, and they were making all the hustle plays. Jayson Tatum hammered home an alley-oop to cut the deficit to 13 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Celtics fell behind by 15 early in the fourth but went on a 7-0 run to close it to eight with eight minutes to go which forced James to reenter the game. The Celtics got as close as seven down the stretch, but the Cavaliers came right back with two buckets to widen their lead to 11. Boston came right back, but sloppy turnovers bit the Celtics again, and the Cleveland took an 11 point lead again with 3:10 to play.
That was the last gasp for the Celtics. The Cavaliers got all the calls down the stretch, and were able to run out the clock. James put up 44 in a 111-102 win, and the Celtics’ poor defense in the first half ended up being the dagger. The series is now even a 2-2 and the decisive Game 5 will be played on Wednesday, May 23 at 8:30 p.m.