The Cleveland Cavaliers have taken a 3-1 lead over the Boston Celtics in a game that was much closer than the final score suggested. The toughness of the Celtics was once again on display, as the wine and gold had to overcome a ton of adversity to come away with the much needed win.
The sloppiness from the second half of Game 3 carried over to the first quarter. The Cavs seemed to still be asleep while the Boston Celtics played with far more desperation. They moved the ball well and the Cavs simply did not rotate quickly enough.
While the offensive execution left a lot to be desired, it was the defense that truly put them in their first quarter hole.
Things didn’t get much better in the second quarter. Despite starting the quarter with more energy, the defensive lapses didn’t go away. To make matters worse, LeBron James quickly picked up two fouls in the second, forcing him to sit for the bulk of the quarter with four fouls.
With James sitting, the team actually showed some signs of life. Kyrie Irving went on a scoring spree, playing with speed and barking out orders on the court. The Cavs went on a 12-2 run with Irving scoring the first 10 of those points. The run wasn’t as effective as it could have been, as the team continued to blow defensive assignments and overshoot closeouts.
It’s hard to pinpoint just one issue in a half so ugly. But when the Cavs play this poorly, they often are bailed out by Tristan Thompson. Thompson wasn’t able to make the same impact on the glass, finishing with 4 points and 3 rebounds in the first half (one offensive). The team was without their safety net, and had LeBron sit for most of the second quarter. If it were not for some heroics from Irving, things could have been a whole lot worse than their 57-47 halftime deficit.
That run by Irving appeared to jumpstart him, as the third quarter was yet another Kyrie playoff masterpiece. He scored in nearly every way imaginable, having his way with every defender the team threw at him. After James picked up his fourth foul, Irving went on a run of 33 point on 13-16 shooting.
The run was nearly halted, as Irving went down on a drive and was favoring his left ankle. While he was able to play through it, that ankle may be something to keep an eye on after the adrenaline wears off.
LeBron James was far more assertive in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter. He was aggressive in attacking the basket, and also got a few shots to go down. While he wasn’t always rewarded with calls, it was good to see him drive by his defender and get to the rim.
He picked apart the Celtics defense with his stellar passing and was able to generate drive and kick looks that were missing over the five quarters that preceded that.
Kevin Love was also a huge difference maker in this game. He pulled down 17 rebounds to go along with his 17 points, 2 blocks and a steal. His strong play helped make up for an off night from Thompson and was yet another example of the mental toughness and comfort he has gained since joining the Cavs. He was hobbling around a bit in the fourth quarter, but the severity of his injury is unclear.
The Cavs will look to close out the Celtics and give themselves some much needed rest on Thursday night.