The first half of Game 4 wasn’t pretty. It had plenty of Game 3 vibes as the Cleveland Cavaliers came out sluggish and LeBron James had to sit with foul trouble. Luckily, that trend was quickly reversed as the second half began and the Cavs never looked back. The Cavs took Game 4 against a wounded Boston Celtics team by a score of 112-99. The series now heads back to Boston as the Cavs look to put an end to the team that has showed a ton of fight and heart. Let’s take a look at what we learned from a nerve-racking Game 4.
When LeBron went out, Kyrie turned it on
With 6:46 left in the second quarter, LeBron James was forced to take a seat on the bench as he picked up his fourth foul after being called for a charge against Terry Rozier. At the time, the Cavs were down 43-33 and there was absolutely no rhythm to their play. Things were starting to feel oddly familiar to how Game 3 ended but there was one constant that changed the entire flow. Kyrie Irving. Kyrie, until that moment, had an quiet series in that it hardly felt as though he was on the court at times. He was deferring to LeBron up until this point in the series and never had any of those scoring outbursts mixed with dazzling dribble moves that we’re used to. He wasn’t playing bad basketball by any standards, he just wasn’t playing as aggressively as we know he can. Despite the fact that he was averaging 21 points and 5.3 assists on 59.5 percent shooting from the field and 46.7 percent from three through the first three games, he never had one of his “Kyrie moments”. Until Game 4.
Irving morphed into a flamethrower once he was the one being relied on to put points on the board. He poured in 12 points in the final six minutes of the second quarter with LeBron on the bench, keeping the Cavs in the game going into the half and confidence to build on. Even when LeBron came back in as the second half got rolling, Kyrie continued to exploit the Celtics. It didn’t matter if it was Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, or even Avery Bradley. Kyrie was torching every single one of them with the only thought on his mind being to get to the basket at will.
His 24 points in the second half (21 of those coming in the third quarter alone) on 10-of-13 shooting was exactly the spurt the Cavs needed to push themselves past the pesky Celtics. He couldn’t go a whole game without embarrassing someone, though, as Jae Crowder was his latest victim.
Kevin Love is playing his best basketball as a Cavalier
The talk of the series so far has been focused on LeBron James, and rightfully so, but Kevin Love is performing on levels we haven’t seen in some time. LeBron mentioned after Game 1 that he wanted to see more of “the mentality of Kevin from Minnesota” and that’s exactly what everyone has been privileged enough to witness. Kevin Love has been playing much more comfortably in his role this season in Cleveland and his play has shown that, but most recently he’s been playing at a level similar to his time in Minnesota that saw him make the All-Star game three times.
Love piled together a stat line of 17 points, 17 rebounds, and five assists in Game 4, eating up rebounds like he did in his Minnesota years. Love has actually been putting up All-Star numbers all series. He’s now averaging 24.5 points and 12.8 rebounds on 50.8 percent shooting and an impressive 55.6 percent from deep. He’s one of only a handful of players in the entire NBA that has the ability to post stats such as those and he’s not even the second best player on his own team.
A tale of two halves
Much like Game 3, the Cavaliers played one half of great basketball and one half of lazy basketball, only this time it was reversed. Instead of holding a 16-point lead at half as they did in Game 3, the Cavs found themselves in a 10-point hole searching for answers with LeBron on the bench. Both the Cavs and Celtics shot 47 percent in the first half of Game 4, then Kyrie and company decided to go supernova, rattling off 40 points on 72.7 percent shooting in the third quarter. The Cavs would shoot 69.2 percent for the second half compared to Boston’s 41.2 percent and the Cavs had come back and won the game before the Celtics even knew what was happening. When one of the best perimeter defenders in the game, Bradley, is struggling to guard Irving, there isn’t much else that can be done to stop an offensive attack as deadly as Cleveland’s.
LeBron was able to go the entire second half without picking up a foul and I like to imagine the reason he played so well in the second half was because he was upset the Celtics didn’t take advantage of the fact that he had four fouls. To go along with Kyrie’s 24 second half points, LeBron made sure he wouldn’t be showed up as he scored 24 in the second half as well. The Big 3 alone scored 55 of the team’s 65 second half points, and 93 of the team’s overall 112 points. When LeBron is hitting shots as tough as these, the basketball gods have already decided the outcome of the game.