While the Celtics hung around for a majority of Game 4, LeBron James and the Cavaliers were too much, finishing off Boston to even up the series at 2-apiece. The series heads back to Boston on Wednesday for Game 5. Here are three things to take away from Cleveland’s Game 4 victory.
1. Tristan Thompson continues to earn his contract playing against Al Horford
The past few seasons, Cavaliers’ fans are accustomed to seeing Tristan Thompson defend, out-rebound and man handle Al Horford. In Game 1, Tyronn Lue opted to go with the smaller lineup, starting Kevin Love at the center, which paved the way for a 20-point, six-assist game on 80 percent shooting for Horford.
Since Tristan Thompson has been inserted back into the starting lineup in Game 2, Horford has averaged 12.3 points and eight rebounds per game on 40 percent shooting.
When Thompson is on the court, Horford is shooting 33 percent from the floor and 68 percent when Thompson’s not on the court. Horford’s net rating goes from minus-6.6 with Thompson on the floor to plus-30.7 with Thompson off of it.
For the rest of the series, Lue should continue to match Thompson’s minutes with Horford, as the Boston big man has been unable to get rolling. LeBron James and Lue have both acknowledged Horford to be the engine to the Celtics’ offense and shutting him down in Games 2-3 have been a big reason for the Cavaliers’ defensive success.
2. Kyle Korver embodies the Cavaliers’ playoff slogan, ‘Whatever It Takes’
Throughout the 2018 NBA Playoffs, I can make a strong argument that the second-most consistent Cavalier behind LeBron James is a 37-year old Kyle Korver. Kevin Love and George Hill have battled injuries, Tristan Thompson’s been in and out of the lineup and J.R. Smith has faced shooting woes.
Yet, 15 seasons into his career, Kyle Korver is diving for loose balls, protecting the rim against Jaylen Brown — three times to be specific — and as always, spacing out the floor with his sharp shooting.
After an out of character Game 1, Korver has followed it up with three-straight double-digit scoring games, going 8-of-15 from three-point range.
Korver has also accepted the challenge of chasing around 21-year old Jaylen Brown on the defensive end. While Brown seemed to get his offense going late in Game 4, Korver has used his veteran savvy to cut off driving lanes, block shots and make life difficult for Brown.
The X-factor for the Cavaliers’ success in Game 5 will be Korver’s shooting from deep. If the 37-year old can light it up from deep, the Cavaliers could sneak out of Boston with a chance to advance to the NBA Finals.
3. If the Cavaliers win Game 5, this series won’t go back to Boston for Game 7
The Celtics looked invincible in Games 1-2 in Boston, providing ammunition for most media members to call the series over and tough for the Cavaliers to make a come back.
And then the young Boston team went on the road to get embarrassed by 30 points in Game 3, only to follow it up with a dud of a first quarter in Game 4 that they could never recover from.
Brad Stevens and his inexperienced squad return home, looking to regain control of the series, after squandering away the last two games. While Cleveland wants to keep their momentum going, Game 5 is an amber alert, panic level-10, must-win ball game for Boston.
If the Celtics drop Game 5, they can start planning their vacations to Cancun from Cleveland, because there won’t be a Game 7 in Boston. The home/away splits for this Boston team is staggering during the 2018 NBA Playoffs. They’re 9-0 at home, while they’re 1-6 on the road — the one win being a late-game comeback in Philadelphia.
Let’s just look at the Eastern Conference Finals. In their two games at home, Boston averaged 107.5 points, shot 47 percent from the field and 34 percent from deep. In their last two games in Cleveland, the scoring average drops to 94 points and the shooting splits drop to 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range.
Their net rating difference between their home and away games in this series is a whopping 38.7 points.
The young stars, like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, thrive off of the energy in the TD Garden, but have shown their youth and inexperience in their away games. To take a page out of Kyle Lowry’s famous quote book, the Celtics better “treat this Game 5 as their Game 7.”