BOSTON — And with that, the Celtics’ stunningly successful 2014-15 season came to a close.
The Cleveland Cavaliers again proved to be too much for the boys in green Sunday at TD Garden, clinching a sweep of their first-round playoff series with a 101-93 win in Game 4.
TRYING IT ALL
Head coach Brad Stevens elected to mix up his starting lineup for Game 4, inserting Jae Crowder in Marcus Smart’s place. The move primarily was an attempt to contain LeBron James, as Crowder had been the most successful Celtic at defending the Cavs star through the first three games of the series.
Smart made Stevens’ decision easier by arriving late to shootaround Sunday morning. As punishment, Smart did not play in the first quarter, but was on the floor to begin the second.
Stevens has used the phrase “throwing darts” to describe some of his more unexpected rotation choices this season, and he threw a whole lot of them Sunday. Twelve different Celtics saw action during the first half, including veteran forward Gerald Wallace, who didn’t play at all in Games 1 through 3.
Nothing worked. Despite limiting James to 4-of-12 shooting from the floor and 1-of-5 from deep in the first half, the Celtics trailed by 21 at the break. Boston didn’t hit its first 3-pointer until the 5:22 mark of the third quarter — a bucket that also represented the first made basket for Isaiah Thomas. Thomas had just two points in the first half, both on free throws.
CAVS GET CHIPPY
We transition from throwing darts to nearly throwing punches. Just 38 seconds after he came off the bench, former Celtics big man Kendrick Perkins leveled Crowder with a hard screen late in the second quarter, then proceeded to poke Crowder in the face in the scuffle that ensued. The Cavaliers led by 21 at the time.
Jared Sullinger had to practically carry the fired-up forward all the way to the opposite baseline before Crowder finally calmed down. Perkins, usually a fan favorite in his returns to TD Garden, was strongly booed for the rest of the game.
Crowder’s afternoon did not last much longer. He fell awkwardly to the court after taking a cheap shot from J.R. Smith less than two minutes into the second half, twisting his left leg in the process.
Smith was slapped with a flagrant 2 foul and ejected, and Crowder, after being carried down the tunnel by Wallace and Gigi Datome, was ruled out for the remainder of the game with a sprained left knee. He finished with seven points, three rebounds and one assist in 17 minutes.
The Cavs suffered a major blow during the first quarter when big man Kevin Love suffered a shoulder injury during a tie-up with Celtics center Kelly Olynyk.
Love immediately sprinted to the locker room, holding his left shoulder, and did not return. He finished with two points, one rebound and one assist in just seven minutes of action. It remains to be seen whether he’ll miss significant time with what was later described as a dislocated shoulder, which obviously would put a dent in Cleveland’s championship aspirations.
The injury might also have been what set the tone for the chippiness that pervaded the final three quarters if the Cavaliers viewed Olynyk’s foul as dirty play.
NOT DEAD YET
Following the craziness of the first 26 minutes, the Celtics did not pack it in. In fact, Boston outscored Cleveland 25-13 in the third quarter, and a strong put-back dunk by Smart cut the C’s deficit to nine.
A Sullinger tip-in at the third-quarter buzzer made it 70-61 Cavs entering the fourth, and a Sullinger three two minutes later trimmed Cleveland’s lead to eight. The Cavs held strong down the stretch, but the Celtics did mount one last-gasp rally in the game’s final minute.
Turnovers on consecutive Cleveland possessions gave Boston the ball down six with 37 seconds remaining. A Datome three missed its mark, though, and two Kyrie Irving free throws sealed things for the Cavs.
Three-point shooting and free throws killed the Celtics, as they went a miserable 3-for-23 from beyond the arc and 24-for-37 from the line. Thomas finished with 21 points but endured his second consecutive subpar shooting game, sinking all 12 of his foul shots but going just 4-for-17 from the floor.
Sullinger’s star shone the brightest for Boston. The big man, who was listed as probable with a bruised tailbone coming in, helped carry the Celtics with 21 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
For the Celtics, the offseason. The Cavs, meanwhile, will await the winner of the first-round matchup between the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. Chicago leads that series 3-1 after Milwaukee took Game 4 on a buzzer-beater Saturday night.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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