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.
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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 Perkins leveled 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.
ISAIAH THOMAS, MERE MORTAL
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.