After a head-scratching home loss on Sunday night and a sloppy, sluggish first half on Tuesday, the Cavaliers flipped that proverbial switch after intermission – shooting 71 percent from the floor in the second stanza and blowing past the Celtics, 112-99, to take Game 4 at The Q.
The Wine and Gold now stand one win away from a third straight trip to the NBA Finals, but locking up their third win in the series didn’t come easy.
Buoyed by their big upset in Game 3, the shorthanded Celtics – who’ll be without Isaiah Thomas for the remainder of the postseason – took the fight to Cleveland in the first half of Game 4, leading by double digits after one quarter and by as many as 16 in the second.
Complicating the Cavaliers’ first-half pickle was the foul trouble LeBron James found himself in – picking up his fourth personal with 6:46 to play in the second period.
But the Cavs found their footing late in the half and were able to stay within striking distance – trailing by only 10 at intermission.
The Celtics saw a different team emerge from the locker room in the third quarter, however, and the Wine and Gold – namely Kyrie Irving – were all business over the final 24 minutes.
In that third quarter, Irving was virtually unstoppable – tallying 21 of his playoff career-high 42 points in the period, going 9-of-10 from the floor as Cleveland turned a 10-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead heading to the fourth.
In the fourth, the Cavaliers looked like themselves again.
The Celtics cut their lead to four earlier in the period, but Cleveland hit the afterburners and eventually cruised to the finish line – taking a double-digit edge with just over three minutes to play and holding off Boston down the stretch.
Led by Kyrie’s career night, the Big Three did almost all the heavy lifting on Tuesday night – combining for 93 points, the most Cleveland’s power troika has ever tallied in a playoff game.
On the night, Irving went 15-for-22 from the floor, including 4-of-7 from long range and 8-of-9 from the stripe. The four-time All-Star – who was 10-of-12 from the field in the second half – added four assists and three boards in the win.
”The importance of a Game 4 – especially the way we came out in Game 3 – you know, in the back of my mind, I was like, I’m saying to myself, ‘We cannot—they cannot tie up this series’,” said Irving. “And for us, our focus level has to be at an all-time high, and the little things that matter that’s going to make the difference within the game.”
LeBron James bounced back from a difficult Game 3 in which he scored just 11 points – the fourth-lowest playoff total of his career – to tally 34 points, going 15-for-27 from the floor to go with six assists, five boards, a steal and a blocked shot.
Name Points Rebounds Assists
Kyrie Irving 42 3 4
LeBron James 34 5 6
Kevin Love 17 17 5
For James – who notched 24 of his 34 after halftime – it was his 10th game of at least 30 points, his 11th shooting at least 50 percent from the floor.
”[The Celtics] are giving us everything that they have, and we’re expecting it, and we want the challenge,” said James. “It’s the postseason and, at the end of the day, you just want to win the game. It doesn’t matter who you’re going against or how you get the job done, you’re just trying to figure it out, and I think we did that.”
Kevin Love has now doubled up in each game of the Eastern Conference Finals – leading both squads with a playoff career-high 17 rebounds to go with 17 points, five assists, a steal and a pair of blocked shots.
Four Celtics notched double figures in Game 4—led by Avery Bradley, who tallied 19 points on 7-for-19 shooting. Jae Crowder finished with 18 points while Al Horford chipped in with 16 to go with a game-high seven assists.
Cleveland shot 59.5 percent from the floor on the night – the NBA’s best shooting mark of the 2017 postseason. Both squads hit 10 triples on the night, but the Cavaliers again controlled the boards – 37-29 – as well holding scoring advantages in the paint, 58-34, and on the break, 16-4.
Turning Point—After a flat first half, once momentum started swinging Cleveland’s way in the second half of Game 4, the Celtics simply had no answer.
The Celtics started the second half up 10 and went up 11 less than three minutes into the quarter on Jae Crowder’s finger-roll. But LeBron’s two straight buckets got Cleveland to within a touchdown and JR Smith’s massive put-back dunk electrified the arena and fueled the Cavs’ burgeoning comeback.
After Love scored back-to-back buckets, Swish drained a bomb to get Cleveland to within three, 69-66.
At that point, Uncle Drew took over the ballgame – scoring 19 of the Cavaliers’ final 21 points in the period and putting Cleveland squarely in control of the contest.
By the Numbers – 24.5, 12.8 … Kevin Love’s scoring and rebounding averages through the first four games of the Eastern Conference Finals – shooting .508 from the floor, .556 from beyond the arc and .857 from the stripe in the series.
Quotable – Coach Tyronn Lue, on how Boston overcame Cleveland’s 21-point lead …
”[Kryie] saw LeBron went out, and he wanted to put the team on his shoulders, on his back, and just let us ride him until LeBron got back. He did that. And we put him in some good situations, iso, where he’s one of the best in the league, and he produced for us.”
Up Next— After rallying past the Celtics on Tuesday night, the Cavaliers will look to close out the Celtics on Thursday night when their return to Boston for Game 5. If they’re able to stay alive, the Eastern Conference Finals return to Cleveland for Saturday night’s Game 6 at The Q. If the series goes the distance, it’s back to Beantown for Game 7 next Monday night at the TD Garden.
By Joe Gabriele
First appeared on NBA.com Global