As Celtics forward Jae Crowder battled for a rebound with Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith early in the third quarter, the latter swung his arm into the former’s face, sending Crowder to the ground as his leg buckled beneath him.
Crowder did not return to the game, and neither did Smith, who earned a flagrant 2 foul, an ejection and possibly a suspension for his actions.
The initial diagnosis from doctors who examined Crowder is a left knee sprain, but the soon-to-be restricted free agent will undergo an MRI either on Sunday night or Monday morning to confirm there is no structural damage.
“I haven’t seen it, but we don’t know exactly what the deal is yet,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Smith’s foul. “He had a lower leg potential injury as he fell, but he’s going to go get an MRI and everything else. I guess he got elbowed to the head, and that’s how he fell. I shouldn’t be saying that, because I couldn’t see the play from my vantage point, but that’s what I was told. It’s what I know.”
Following a successful run with the organization since coming to Boston in return for Rajon Rondo this past December, Crowder’s re-signing is expected to be among the C’s highest priorities this summer.
Jae Crowder said the Celtics wouldn’t go down without a fight, and he was right.
Crowder was involved in two of the half-dozen ugly dust-ups with the Cavaliers, ultimately leaving the game with an apparent knee injury in the ugliest of the bunch, but in the end it didn’t matter how much muscle his team flexed. Cleveland had LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and in the end they were the difference-makers.
As they did all series, the Celtics spent the second half trying to erase a Cavs lead that had ballooned to double digits, and as was the case in their first three attempts, they fell short, losing the game 101-93 and the series 4-0.
James finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while Irving added 24 points and 11 assists. Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Isaiah Thomas added 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds before fouling out. Avery Bradley (16 points) and Marcus Smart (11 points) also reached double figures.
Marcus Smart’s absence from shootaround wasn’t the only late wakeup call for the Celtics. Brad Stevens spent the better part of the past week trying to solve his team’s defensive rebounding woes, and within 95 seconds of Game 4 the Cavaliers are had their second offensive board — leading to five of Cleveland’s first seven points. As a result, Stevens called his quickest timeout as an NBA coach. The intervention on the bench did little to stop the bleeding, as the Cavs reached double-digits in second-chance points and built a 21-point lead by halftime.
GETTING OUT OF HAND
With 5:22 remaining in the first quarter and the Celtics already trailing by nine, Kelly Olynyk locked arms with Kevin Love and separated the Cavaliers forward’s shoulder. It was an intentional grab with unintentional consequences, removing Love for the remainder of Game 4 and perhaps longer. Even for those rooting passionately against Cleveland in this series, it wasn’t a sight anybody wanted to see. While the Celtics were unable to capitalize, Love’s injury could have untold consequences on the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Meanwhile, in what appeared to be a response to Olynyk’s loose ball foul, old friend Kendrick Perkinsleveled Jae Crowder on a moving pick before taking a swipe at the Celtics forward’s face. How Perkins wasn’t thrown out — and how Crowder earned a technical foul as well — is a mystery. The game was out of hand, and the officials did little to police the anarchy. It came back to bite the Celtics early in the third quarter, when J.R. Smith sent Crowder to the locker room with a blow to the head that made his knee buckle. Finally, Smith paid for his flagrant foul with an ejection.
After a brilliant playoff debut in Game 1 and a 22-point encore in Game 2, the C’s sixth man has struggled since the series moved to Boston. Thomas scored five points on nine shots and finished a team-worst minus-3 in Thursday’s loss to Cleveland, and things started worse on Sunday. He missed his first 10 shots before finally sinking a 3-point attempt midway through the third quarter, when the C’s already trailed by 19. Crafty as he is, though, Thomas got to the free throw line, where he made all 10 of his attempts, and finished with a decent stat line on a tough night.
That Thomas 3-pointer also marked the C’s first make from distance as a team. The Celtics entered Sunday’s game shooting just 30 percent on 63 attempts from beyond the arc in the series, and they missed their first 11 tries from 3-point range in Game 4. In the first three games of the series — including a pair of single-digit losses — the Cavaliers outscored the C’s by an average of five points at the 3-point line. Even as the Celtics limited Cleveland’s damage from distance on Sunday, holding the Cavs below 25 percent from 3, they still couldn’t gain a shooting edge. A tough night at the free throw line didn’t help matters. In addition to rim protection, 3-point shooting should be among Danny Ainge’s biggest priorities.
Even as the Cavaliers built a lead as large as 21 in a series they already led 3-0, the Celtics never gave into the temptation of packing their bags early. On multiple occasions at the end of the third and throughout the fourth quarter, the C’s cut Cleveland’s lead to single digits. Thomas spent the first few moments of a timeout urging the crowd to stay on its feet and lift his reeling team. The Celtics somehow coming away with a jump ball between Phil Pressey and LeBron James was indicative of their resiliency, and an after-timeout play designed for a Gigi Datome 3-point try with the Celtics trailing by six in the final minute exemplified their ingenuity. They never quite got over the hump, as was the case in every game of the series, but the fight they showed is a testament to Stevens and his charges, who exceeded all expectations even before the playoffs began.
A brutally physical game for Jae Crowder ended just 96 seconds into the second half Sunday in Game 4 against the Cavaliers.
J.R. Smith swung his elbow underneath the Celtics basket, knocking out Crowder temporarily. But the bigger damage came as he fell to the floor. Crowder’s lower left leg bent underneath him as he fell, suffering a game-ending sprain.
Crowder was on the floor for several minutes before being helped up and assisted to the Celtics locker room, where the team ruled him out for the rest of the game.
Unlike Kendrick Perkins, who drilled Crowder with a forearm to the jaw in the second quarter on a screen, Smith was ejected with a “Flagrant 2″ foul.
With 1:44 left in the second quarter, the former Celtics big man hero set a screen for LeBron James. One problem: He threw his left forearm at the jaw of Crowder, knocking the Celtics best defender of James to the floor.
Crowder got up and the two nearly started a brawl. Perkins added a face-slap to Crowder before the two were separated.
Perkins was charged with a “Flagrant 1″ and both were charged with technicals but Perkins stayed in the game.
Tristan Thompson (13) has been a force for the Cavaliers against the Celtics. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Coming into this series, the Celtics knew they were going to have their hands full with LeBron James. They knew Kyrie Irving could score and big man Kevin Love could knock down big shots from behind the arc. They were well aware of JR Smith and his streaky ability to catch fire in spurts. All four of those players have had big moments in the first three games.
But they may have underestimated the impact of Tristan Thompson.
As a matter of fact, he may be the difference in the series so far coming off Cleveland’s bench. Thompson has controlled the offensive glass and given the Cavaliers second chance after second chance. Against a team with the aforementioned weaponry, that’s a formula for disaster.
There was no better example than in the final three minutes Thursday after Evan Turner‘s three-ball drew the Celtics to within three, 95-92, with 2:45 left. The Celtics appeared to have stopped the Cavaliers on a missed runner from Irving. But there was Thompson, the 6-foot-9 space-eater in the paint. He hauled down the rebound and quickly found Irving again, who dished to Love for an open three on the left wing. Love, who had forever to set himself, knocked it down. 98-92, with just 2:13 left.
With 51.9 seconds left and the Cavs lead just five, 98-93, James missed a jumper but there was that big man in the middle again. Thompson found LeBron, who found Love again. Three-pointer. Ball game.
Thompson had five of Cleveland’s 11 offensive rebounds Thursday in the 103-95 Game 3 win. On Tuesday, he hauled in five of his team’s 12 second chance rebounds. That’s 10 offensive rebounds in a pair of eight-point wins.
The Celtics turned up the physical tone Thursday night in an effort to show big, bad LeBron that they’re not scared of them. But coach Brad Stevens lamented the fact that the physical presence didn’t keep the Cavs off the offensive glass at key times.
“I think we’ve been pretty physical but we haven’t been able to get rebounds as well,” Stevens said. “We really had a five man rebounding mindset. But still, second-chance points seem to be magnified in this series. And they seem to be happening at critical, critical times for them. We cut it to one in the third quarter; they get a rebound, kick-out three. And we’re not in the play to get that ball. Love’s three off of Thompson’s rebound late ‘ those are killers.
“And we haven’t been very timely in finishing plays in those regards the whole series. But, obviously, we were just trying to get over the hump, over the hump. Played poorly at the end of the second half, that really hurt us, and just dug ourselves too big of a hole. You know, sometimes as a coach you overanalyze it. They hit a couple shots that were ‘ nice job. Nice bank [shot] by Lebron, which he clearly meant to do. Like, I saw him shoot it like he was trying to bank it. It was a great shot. It was the angle that he wasn’t being contested at that he shot it. It was amazing. And then JR Smith’s shots were huge.
“We’ve got to play better basketball. And I don’t mean to sound that general, and I’m sorry I do, but we have to play better basketball. We have to play better on both ends. I told the guys in there, and I believe this line, and I don’t know who said it so I apologize to the person that originally said it, but when considering the consequences of not doing the little things, you realize there are no little things. That applies to us right now.”
Give the Celtics this much: They’re making the first-round series hard for the heavily-favored Cavaliers.
After Thursday’s 103-95 win over the Celtics in Game 3, putting Cleveland up 3 games to none, Cavs coach Dave Blatt acknowledged the battle he’s getting from Brad Stevens, and the leadership he needs from LeBron James.
“I all fairness, we do have players that have been in this situation, that have played these kind of games,” Blatt said. “LeBron’s leadership obviously a huge factor, because he’s the guy that not only guys follow but they feel him, they sense him and his control in these games has been outstanding both in terms of seizing the moment, but also talking guys through situations.
“Coach [Stevens] is right. I think we have showed maturity and poise in how we are playing. This was not an easy game and honestly none of the three games have been easy. Coach Stevens is doing a terrific job with his team and they are competing and playing us tough as it should be in the playoffs.
“Obviously, the job’s not done. We have to win another game. One of the reasons we’ve won these games is that we have respected our opponent, not look past even the game in front of us. Understanding that if we do, we could put ourselves in trouble. We’re going to respect our opponent and come out and compete and play the best game we can possibly play on Sunday.”
What’s been the difference so far for Blatt’s Cavaliers?
“I think our maturity and the fact obviously that we have finishers on our team, guys that know how to finish games,” Blatt said. “Both teams are playing really hard. Both teams are competing. Both teams are very capable. I just think as team we have more maturity but that doesn’t guarantee anything. We’ve got to come out and win another game before I summarize the differences. We’re still in the fight. Boston’s not going away. They haven’t up to this point and they won’t. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
It was James who accompanied JR Smith to the Garden at 9 a.m. Thursday to get a jump start on the shootaround, trying to find the winning edge.
Now, it’s Brad Stevens who must try to find that same winning edge in his players. Stevens was asked Thursday what he sees as the keys that have put Cleveland up, 3-0.
“We’ll see at the end of the series, right? And I’ll be better-able to say it, and I want to get ready to go and want to make sure that we play as well as possible for however many games we have left,” Stevens said. “But obviously No. 23 is one. And I thought they made some ‘ and obviously they’ve got other very talented guys, right? ‘ I thought Love made huge shots, I thought Irving made huge shots, and then JR Smith.
“He went to a different level than he’s been in the first two games. So I think all of those guys, and then you add in the [Tristan] Thompsons and the rebounders and all those guys, so you’ve got all these guys that are good players around the super super-stars and they just become better when they’re around them. And that’s what the great ones do; they make everybody else rise up.”
The fun part about watching this Celtics team is the number of leaders that have emerged from unexpected places, like 24-year-old Jae Crowder. It was Crowder who said Wednesday he was in no way intimidated by LeBron James and the Cavaliers as the series shifted back to Boston.
“I know a lot was made out of what he said [Wednesday], but the bottom line is, Jae’s not scared,” Stevens said. “He’s not scared. He’s not going to play ‘ he’s not going to play in a way that he’s going to back down from anybody, which I really appreciate about him. He plays really hard, he is a very good defender, he’s a very versatile defender, and he made huge shots and made huge plays at the rim for us. He’s been a great addition. Just a great addition. It’s been fun to coach him.”