Here are takeaways from Game 4.
Boston can’t get over the hump
As bad as they played and as many opportunities as they missed, the Celtics closed the deficit to a few possessions multiple times. They just couldn’t get any closer and they’ll look back in frustration at the moments where they could have capitalised. Boston missed a total of 15 dunks and layups in the loss, with those misses turning into 15 points for Cleveland, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Just a rough night.
Celtics missed 15 dunks/layups during Game 4.— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) May 22, 2018
Maybe more painful: The Cavaliers turned those misses into 15 points (4-of-8 shooting, 7 free throws), per @ESPNStatsInfo
Jaylen Brown: "Just going too fast, too excited. Just need to slow down."
Korver comes through on defence
Kyle Korver is considered a one-way player, but he’s actually not as bad of a defender as his reputation would suggest. The sharpshooters showed off his defensive ability in Game 4 when he did well to limit Jaylen Brown and finished with three impressive blocks. Brown got it going in the second half, but by then, Cleveland had built up enough of a lead to where it didn’t end up mattering. Boston should keep attacking Korver, but it won’t always result in a bucket.
This is crazy Kyle Korver really got Jaylen Brown out here looking like Papa Doc after Eminem exposes Cranbrook pic.twitter.com/NN7LvJOJn3— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) May 22, 2018
Cavs relentless picking on Rozier
It’s not a secret how the Cavaliers want to attack Boston’s defence. Terry Rozier may be a good perimeter defender, but he can’t hang in the post against LeBron James or Kevin Love, which is why Cleveland are going after him again and again after drawing a switch. Boston simply haven’t executed well in sending help from the weakside to get Rozier out of those situations and when he’s been stuck on an island, the Cavaliers have seemingly got whatever they’ve wanted.
Thompson makes life hard
He’s not scoring or filling up the stat sheet much, but Tristan Thompson has undoubtedly been one of the most important players in the series. His defence has really given the Celtics trouble and presented a mirage on mismatches, baiting players to attack him only to end up with a poor shot. When Thompson was the primary defender in Game 4, Boston players shot just 3-of-11 from the field.
Whistles throw off rhythm
The flow of Game 4 was just… off. A total of 49 fouls where whistled, which ended up hurting both sides and putting several players in foul trouble. There’s a difference between calling the game in a manner that prevents the play from getting overly-physical and calling touch fouls. Too often, the refs in Game 4 were doing the latter, which is particularly frustrating to watch and for players to play through in a hyper-competitive playoff setting.
Give LeBron James enough time and he’ll usually figure things out.
It won’t go down as one of the most memorable playoff performances of his storied career, but James delivered a methodical 44 points on 17-of-28 shooting and – outside of his seven turnovers – looked in complete control.
From attacking off the dribble to feasting in the post, James was aggressive in going to the rim against mismatches. He finished with 13 baskets in the paint, the second-most of his playoff career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“He’s the best in the game at evaluating the court and figuring out what he wants and where he wants it,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
“The thing about it is that you just have to battle. You just have to make it as hard as possible, because he’s going to find a matchup that he ultimately wants.”
James also set another noteworthy record in the win, hitting a 22-foot jumper midway through the second quarter to give him his 2,357th playoff basket, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most in postseason history.
James already ranked first all-time in playoff points (6,668), playoff minutes (9,736) and playoff steals (410).
“To know where I come from, small city 35 miles south of here, and to hear I’m in the same category or talked about and jumping these greats in the playoffs, it’s pretty cool,” James said.
“You hear the scoring, the field goals made, and for a kid that really doesn’t care much about scoring.”
The series now heads back to Boston, where the Celtics have been a different team than on the road in the playoffs.
Through nine games at TD Garden, they’ve yet to drop a game and have outscored opponents by an average margin of 11.3 points. On the road, they’re just 1-6 and been outscored by 12.0 points per game.
111-102, Final in Game 4.— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) May 22, 2018
Celtics have still not won a road game in regulation since March 28th.
Headed home for Game 5... pic.twitter.com/8gLNqiDEt6
After Boston and Cleveland both held serve at home, the Celtics still hold an advantage with two of remaining three games hosted in their building.
But with James in a groove and the rest of the Cavaliers following his lead, Game 5 on Wednesday (UAE: 04:30 +1) will be a challenge for a young Boston side eager to respond.
“It’s the best two out of three to go to the NBA Finals. Doesn’t get better than that,” Stevens said. “Ultimately, anybody that didn’t think this was going to be tough, I mean, everything is tough.
“In this deal, it’s a blast to have to grit your teeth, get up off the mat and go after it again.”
The two-time MVP finally arrived in the Western Conference Finals with a 35-point explosion in Game 3 to lead Golden State in 126-85 blowout win over the Houston Rockets.
Curry had 34 points total through the first two contests in Houston and even though the Warriors took Game 1, their sharpshooter’s struggles kept them from imposing their true identity.
That changed on Sunday as Curry found solace at home to put any injury concerns over his knee in the rearview mirror.
It didn’t look like Game 3 would provide that setting after Curry missed five of his first six shots from long range in the first half. Curry, however, let loose in the third quarter – as he’s so often done – by knocking down all seven of his shots, including two 3-pointers, to pour in 18 points and blow the game open.
Curry has now scored at least 17 points in a playoff quarter 10 times, with seven of those coming in the third quarter, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“There’s obviously that anticipation when you come in transition and you find an open look and there’s a collective hush in the crowd, especially in this building,” Curry said.
“It’s a cool moment. I was searching for it in the first half. I had plenty of opportunities, I just couldn’t knock it down. Third quarter it opened up. I’ve been doing it for a while. I won’t let two tough games shooting keep me frustrated.”
After nailing a floater during his sizzling run in the third quarter, Curry even faced the crowd, took out his mouthpiece and shouted “This is my f****** house!”
The emotions were that of a player who finally got to release some built-up frustration.
“A lot of it was just [me] talking to myself, almost like you’ve got to be your biggest fan sometimes,” Curry said. “No matter what questions I was being asked over the first two games or what the expectations was, I had the highest expectations for myself. And you’ve just got to – find whatever you want to get going.
“I mean, obviously, it felt good, and you want to use that energy to show your teammates that you’re here, you’re with them, get the crowd into it. But it’s one game, and you’ve got to have that same type of energy and intentions and focus the next game and the right approach. So, I did my job tonight. I’ve got to do it again.”