BOSTON — LeBron James, like many others around the NBA, has a lot of respect for Celtics head coach Brad Stevens for the job he’s done with a young, inexperienced team.
“I highly respect their coaching staff and especially their head coach,” James said after his Cleveland Cavaliers completed a first-round sweep with a 101-93 win Sunday at TD Garden.
“A very well-coached team, (Stevens) put those guys out there every night and put them in a position to win the game, and I think Brad Stevens is a very good young coach in our league.”
When you look at the record books years from now and see a sweep in this series, your first reaction might be the Cavs didn’t face much resistance from the Celtics. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Boston was competitive in every game and made Cleveland work really hard, perhaps harder than it expected, to reach Round 2 in just four games.
The Celtics are not far away from being a legit contender again, especially in a weak Eastern Conference. One or two more pieces, which could come via free agency or the stockpile of draft picks general manager Danny Ainge has acquired through trades, could make the C’s a real threat in just a few seasons.
“I’m not a big salesman, never have been, not very good at it,” Stevens said when asked if this series will make the Celtics a more interesting destination for players.
“The only thing I can ever say is you want to be part of a great environment. It’s a good environment (here). That makes the whole experience better. And for me, that’s our task, to continue to build and grow within that environment. Because we’ve got a good foundation and culture moving forward.”
— One of the takeaways from this series is the physicality shown by both teams, particularly the Celtics. Game 4 had a number of incidents, including technical fouls given to Kendrick Perkins and Jae Crowder after a hard screen and a flagrant 2 foul on J.R. Smith for hitting Crowder in the face.
“I’ve been in 10 first-round (series), I’ve swept a few of them,” James said. “I’m not sure if this was the most physical one. I’m OK with physical play. So, it doesn’t bother me, I’m OK with it.”
Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving, who was on the receiving end of a few hard fouls throughout the series, said Game 4 was the most physical game he’s ever played in.
“I think the biggest thing is that we have a lot of fighters on our team,” Irving said. “Just the fight that we have for each other, we have each other’s backs through whatever we go through. Obviously, it was me and (Kevin Love’s) first series against a great team and they tested us, at home and especially on the road here. Game 4 was the most physical, especially that I’ve ever played in. And it was just a test that I think I needed individually and then also for our team as well going forward.”
— The Cavs defended very well in Game 4, especially on the perimeter. Boston shot just 3-for-23 (13 percent) from 3-point land and 33-for-85 (38.8 percent) overall.
After scoring 44 points in the first two games combined, Celtics sixth man Isaiah Thomas scored just 26 over the final two contests. He did score 21 points in Game 4, but he shot just 4-for-17 from the field, including a 1-for-7 mark from beyond the arc. Twelve of his points came from the free throw line.
“We changed coverage on him a little bit, made an adjustment, which you do in a series on players consistently hurting you,” Cavs head coach David Blatt said. “I would call it more of a coral than a trap and there is a difference between the two. We did try to get our hands around him figuratively, not allow him splits and not allow him shots off that situation. For the most part, it worked.”
Thumbnail photo via Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports Images
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