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Game 4 Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

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Coming off the most lopsided Eastern Conference Finals loss in NBA History, the Boston Celtics were in a world of hurt. To make matters worse, the team learned that Isaiah Thomas would be out for the remainder of the playoffs due to a torn hip suffered over the past couple of weeks.

But Brad Stevens’ group refused to throw in the towel and caught the Cleveland Cavaliers off guard in their own hometown, and all of a sudden they’ve got some life in this series.

To sum up Game 3 in a nutshell, it was a tale of two halves.

From the onset, Cleveland picked up right where things left off at the TD Garden. Avery Bradley was finally able to get off to a quick start, but Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were too much too much to handle and combined to outscore the Celtics 27 to 24 in the opening quarter.

As he has done all series, Love continued to be a headache for Boston’s defense by knocking down seven threes in the first half. Irving also had 17 points at the break.

However, outside of the Cavalier duo being on fire, the Celtics were in a good place with the most offensive rhythm they’ve shown in the entire series and had a little something to build off of going into the locker room. Before the third quarter started, Stevens delivered a passionate speech at halftime and it certainly got his team’s attention.

Trailing by as many as 21 points in that second half, Boston didn’t try to get it all back at once. They played their game and chipped away at the deficit as Cleveland began to slowly cool down.

Marcus Smart assumed the responsibility of being the go-to guy and came through with flying colors. He led the way with 27 points, 19 of which were scored in the second half. The third-year guard was supremely confident in his jump shot and it showed, as he hit five out of six threes with a couple coming at crucial points of the game.

After a sluggish first half, Al Horford ultimately found his zone by spacing the floor and converted on 50 percent of his tries, including a go-ahead three and a critical basket over Tristan Thompson with 46 seconds left.

The bench unit provided a big spark as well. Kelly Olynyk did a nice job of getting to the restricted area and took advantage of his opportunities. Jonas Jerebko was extremely productive with his time on the floor. He played physically, getting a little rough with Love in the post, and set a pair of hard picks on Deron Williams, helping energize the Celtics. He matched Olynyk’s mark of 10 points, but more importantly hit a long two to put Boston ahead with 30 seconds to go.

Irving answered Jerebko’s shot with a drive to the basket to tie it up, but Boston had the last laugh. Despite going 2-for-11 in the half, Bradley cashed in on a game-winning three to seal it for the Celtics. It was Cleveland’s first loss in the playoffs in 13 games.

The crowd was stunned and social media was on the fritz, so all eyes will definitely be set on Tuesday night.

Who Wins Game 4?

If you didn’t notice, it took over 500 words to type the name LeBron James in this preview. That’s because he was completely irrelevant and out of sync in the 45 minutes he played.

It could have just been an off night for him, because believe it or not, that can happen to everyone. Maybe it was because the other two members of the big three were so great that he sat back and took a lesser role. Whatever it was, James just never had a rhythm from the tip. He wasn’t even close to his normal aggressive self, and only took 13 shots while shooting an uncharacteristic 0-for-4 from deep.

Because of that and the ball sticking on offense late for the Cavaliers, Boston handed James the first playoff loss in his career with his team up at least 20 points. He had been 49-0 before that. A lot is being said of Cleveland’s collapse in the second half, and there’s merit to the argument, but give the Celtics credit. They came into Quicken Loans Arena and played like a top seed is supposed to.

The win had to be a relief for Horford too, as he had lost 14 straight to the Cavaliers in the postseason coming into the game. As Irving put it postgame, Boston served up the heavy favorites a slice of humble pie.

Cleveland is going to be locked in Tuesday. You can bet on that. The wake-up call will serve well for a team that has faced little adversity outside of maybe the first round of the playoffs.

The first point of discussion for Tyronn Lue will have to be fast break points. In Boston, the Cavaliers scored 32 combined and on Sunday had just one basket. They’re one of the most dangerous teams in the league in transition and need to capitalize on those opportunities.

Point number two will be getting more out of the bench. For most of the series, the second unit has been sub-par, and that hadn’t been the case in the first two rounds of the postseason.

It’s worth noting that Channing Frye received a DNP for Game 3 despite playing a significant role in one of the Cavaliers’ premiere 5-man lineups. Maybe giving him some run in this next game could be the right counter to Stevens’ move with Jerebko. But 3-for-14 and nine points from the bench won’t cut it against a deep squad like Boston’s.

The final point is LeBron’s attitude. He said himself that Cleveland needs to get that sense of desperation back, so fully expect a locked in James this time around.

As for the Celtics, Game 3 was a feel-good win and a prideful one at that, but they’re still down 2-1. Can Smart keep the same edge and successfully be a floor general? Is Horford going to be able to keep his fourth quarter momentum going into Game 4? Will Bradley be able to stay consistent on both ends of the court?

It’s remarkable what Boston did on Sunday, but the reality of the situation is the Cavaliers are going to be a much angrier team. A more ferocious and driven LeBron will come out firing on all cylinders and we’ll be headed back to the Garden as Boston will try to somehow keep hope alive.

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About Spencer Davies

Spencer Davies

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.