The Boston Celtics arrived in Cleveland leading the Cavaliers 2-0 in their Eastern Conference finals matchup, but they’ll leave the jewel of Ohio with the series knotted at two.
Boston was blown out in Saturday night’s Game 3 at Quicken Loans Arena, and the C’s struggled out of the gates Monday night in Game 4, trailing by 16 points after one frame. The Celtics fought hard all night but were unable to overcome a massive 44-point performance from LeBron James, as the Cavs won 111-102.
As he has done throughout the Cavs’ entire playoff run, James carried Cleveland’s decaying corpse all night. King James went 17-for-28 from the field and 9-for-13 from the charity stripe, notching his sixth (!) 40-point playoff game this postseason. That’s the most 40-point games in a single playoff run since Allen Iverson in 2001. Only Jerry West (eight) and Michael Jordan (seven) have recorded more.
Brad Stevens only could tip his cap to James.
“He’s the best in the game at evaluating the court and figuring out what he wants and where he wants it,” Stevens said, via The Athletic. “The thing about it is, you just have to battle, because he’s going to find a matchup that he ultimately wants.”
James did the majority of his damage either scoring or passing from the interior in Game 4.
The Cavs’ major adjustment since getting back to Cleveland was to force the Celtics, who switch just about everything on defense, to shift point guard Terry Rozier onto James via screen action. James would set a screen on Rozier and then pin him on his hip and demand the ball.
The Cavs star abused Rozier on switch after switch Monday night, as Boston let James take five to seven dribbles with Rozier on him without help. James used his 250-pound frame to bully Rozier into the paint and get a number of easy looks at the rim or pass out once the help came for wide-open opportunities for his teammates. When Boston tried the “scram switch,” which has a bigger player come off another Cavalier and switch with Rozier before James is able to get the ball, it was largely ineffective.
Cleveland countered that with a number of off-ball actions, mainly Tristan Thompson diving through the lane as the scram was occurring, or with Kevin Love attacking from the corner which put Boston into a defensive fire drill.
And as for the switches, Stevens doesn’t plan on changing the approach.
“Sometimes you just have to pick your poison,” Stevens said, via Celtics.com.
Boston better find a way to make James less comfortable or that poison will be the end of their season.
Here are more notes from Celtics-Cavs Game 4:
— James also passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most made field goals in NBA playoff history. James now has 11 career playoff games where he scored 40-plus points while shooting 60 percent or better from the field.
— The combination of Al Horford and Aron Baynes on the court logged a plus-10 in 10 minutes for Boston in Game 4. The two bigs have played well together this postseason and that could be a lineup change for Stevens heading into Game 5.
— Boston falls to 1-6 on the road in the playoffs.
— Celtics went 5-for-16 when Thompson was the primary defender in Game 4.