Tuesday 20 February 2018 / 10:50 PM


Boston pick up where they left off in their shock Game 3 win, but a career night from Kyrie Irving helps the Cavaliers come back from an early deficit to get within one win of the NBA Finals.

Playing with the confidence picked up from their unexpected victory, the Celtics came out of the gate with a similar intensity in Game 4, guarding the Cavaliers tight on the perimeter and pushing the ball hard on the other end.

In Isaiah Thomas’ absence, the Celtics have successfully emphasised ball-movement to replace his scoring, an off-beat change of system that has clearly caught the Cavs by surprise. It was evident again tonight, as the C’s shot out to an early lead, chalking 17 assists on 21 made baskets, and opening up to a 10-point lead.

LeBron James, after copping a considerable amount of criticism following the poor performance in Game 3, was expected to come out aggressive and silence the doubters. The opposite took place, with James relaxing further into quarterback mode, happy to settle for jumpers and defer to his teammates. Any chance the presumed aggression would pick up was thwarted by some serious foul trouble, James picking up 4 fouls before the halfway point of the second period, the first time that has happened in his career.

Whilst that somewhat restricted his involvement thereafter, Cleveland’s back-up options make for a pretty nice alternative.

Kyrie Irving’s 22-point third quarter outburst helped swing momentum back in the Cavs’ favour, allowing them to spend the fourth quarter holding Boston at bay.

The defensive energy picked up once Kyrie put the offence on his back, and the soft buckets that were available for Boston early in the game were nowhere to be seen.

Cleveland’s defensive success has come on the back of their blitzing system, taking out the opponents’ best offensive weapon. With the Celtics attempting to share the load, the defensive scheme was simply pedestrian early. Once the Cavs adjusted, they successfully ran them off the 3pt-line, giving multiple efforts and sustaining that through the entire possession, forcing contested shots. The Celtics don’t have the scorers to overcome that pressure, and the points dried up fast.

Kyrie continued to toy with Boston’s defence, breaking down whoever guarded him and getting to the bucket with ease. Unable to regain his rhythm and in risk of picking any fouls, James continued to ride Irving’s hot hand; Kyrie and Kevin Love’s contributions were enough to finish the job.

Irving finished with a playoff career-high 41 points off an incredibly efficient 22 shots, whilst Love continued his impressive form, adding 17 points and 17 rebounds and shooting 3-for-5 from downtown.

The second half scored 65-42, indicative of the Cavs starting to familiarise themselves with what the Celtics are doing without IT. Don’t expect the sluggish starts of the past two games to continue as Cleveland look to close out the series in Boston.

Is LeBron tired?

No, he’s disinterested. This is what it looks like when the result is inevitable and your team is far superior to the opposition. These games aren’t in doubt, and if we’ve learnt anything about LeBron across his career, he’s always got one eye towards the bigger picture. He knows what’s at stake come Finals time, so pushing full throttle to overcome a Celtics team which aren’t really posing a threat would prove redundant.

In an “average” performance, LBJ finished 34-6-5. Don’t overreact, the media will do that for you.

Quick Thoughts

  • Celtics defensive breakdowns proved costly. Horford wasn’t good in replacing Amir Johnson’s center minutes, making a few errors that led to buckets. Needs to trust the perimeter guys, can’t bail out bad iso-positions with fouls.
  • The Kryie-only unit was awful towards the end of 1st. If they are going to play with only one star, they can build more sustainable lineups around LBJ or Love. Irving, whilst an exhilarating scorer, is much better off second penetration or when there is another threat diverting attention. He isn’t a distributor, especially compared to Love or James, and with the Cavs bench playing so poorly, it isn’t a good fit.
  • Speaking of, the Cavs bench was a no-show again tonight – Korver (20mins, 0 points) and Williams (18mins, 2 points) need to provide something from the pine, especially in game where LeBron isn’t firing. The Warriors are too good for the bench to be coming up empty. They were outscored 23-7. Have to turn this around.
  • Bradley and Smart regressed to the mean —a combined 2-12 from three. Hot steaks don’t last forever.
  • I warned after Game 2 that Tyler Zeller isn’t an option against Cleveland after a poor showing – he went -5 in 2 minutes on the floor. There is no room for error, just don’t play him.
  • Love is playing great, which is massive; if there was anything to take away from Spurs/Warriors, it was that with Kawhi healthy, Lamarcus Aldridge, when he managed to play well, was dangerous. Best he’s been in a Cavs uniform, timely to say the least.

[YouTube – NBA]

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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