The Celtics locked in on defense in game four, holding the Cavaliers to 40% shooting en route to a 97-87 win. Rajon Rondo had one of the best games of the playoffs, leading all players in points, rebounds and assists. LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 22 points on 7-18 shooting from the field.
Easy baskets were the story on Sunday. The Cavaliers didn’t get easy baskets; the Celtics did. Boston made a concerted effort to push the ball at every opportunity, even on made baskets. The strategy worked, and the Celtics outscored the Cavaliers 23-7 in fast-break points.
The Cavs didn’t did a decent job on the defensive glass, but they could not get an extra possession to save their life. They managed to get all of three offensive rebounds in 48 minutes. What’s more, none of those rebounds led to second-chance points. Most of the 50-50 balls in the game went to Boston. The Cavs were able to force 12 Boston turnovers, but negated that advantage by turning it over 17 times themselves. Thanks to offensive rebounds and turnovers, the Cavs ended up getting nine fewer field goal attempts than the Celtics did. That’s a tough way to win in the playoffs.
All game long, it seemed like the Celtics would build a lead in the blink of an eye, the Cavs would scratch and claw to get back in the game, and then the Celtics would go on another run. The Cavs would get it close, then they’d miss a close shot, the Celtics would push the ball, and the lead would go from five to seven.
Not only did the Celtics tighten the screws on defense, but the Cavs couldn’t make an outside shot to save their lives. They made seven shots from outside the paint all game long. Three of those were contested jumpers off the dribble. That’s four assisted jump shots in 48 minutes. One good drive-and-kick a quarter is not going to get it done against this defense. Some of that is on the shooters. Some of that is on the Cavs’ playmakers not looking to set them up with good looks. The Celtics didn’t hit from outside on Sunday either, but they were getting enough easy baskets to make up for it. The Cavaliers were not.
The Cavs were attacking in the fourth quarter. The problem was that the Boston defense was packing the paint and waiting for the Cavaliers to come to them. When the Cavs got into the paint, there were green jerseys all around, and a missed layup or a turnover was generally the result.
The Cavs cut the lead to two points with 4:22 remaining. Here are some highlights of what happened next:
-The Cavs doubled Kevin Garnett in the post, who found a cutting Tony Allen on the weak-side to push the lead to four.
-With the Cavs down four with three and a half minutes remaining, LeBron got KG on a switch and went to the top of the key. The Cavs tried to set up some back-screens to free up Mo Williams for a jumper or give Jamison a lane to drive through, but the Celtics rotated beautifully. When the help came on LeBron, the only open Cav was Varejao, who tossed up a brick from mid-range. Good defense by the Celtics + horrible offensive decision-making by the Cavs = 0 points on a crucial possession.
-After a Varejao free throw cut the lead to three, Rondo got into the paint and made an absolutely beautiful bounce pass to Pierce, who was lurking on the baseline. Great play by a great player.
-With the Cavs needing a stop to stay in it, KG got the ball in the post and Parker came over to double. He missed the shot, but with Parker out of position, Rondo slipped in for the offensive rebound and drained a floater. Ballgame.
-Not a great performance by LeBron. I’m not sure if “lack of aggression” is the right diagnosis — he didn’t really settle for jumpers unless the clock was winding down, he was 4-9 at the rim, and most of his seven turnovers were from attacking the paint when he didn’t have an opening.
He didn’t have his outside game going, his shooters weren’t making shots, he wasn’t getting the ball on the move, and he was forced into help when he did drive. About the only thing he could have done is try to take over the game by posting up or going to a mid-range game in isolation, which are the weakest parts of his game. He definitely came up short in this game, but I’m not sure that it’s for lack of trying. He’s not going to be able to shoot like he did in game three every game, or most games. All five Cavs on the floor at a given time have to make an effort to mix it up so Boston can’t sit on LeBron’s drives like they did in the fourth quarter. To recap, I agree LeBron was weak tonight, but disagree with the sentiment that he could have flipped the switch and taken the game over if he wanted to. Give the Boston defense a lot of credit for the job they did on LeBron on Sunday.
-Love Jamison working off the dribble — he was able to find holes in the Celtic D a few times with that drive off the pick-and-roll, and it was a lot of fun to watch. Would have loved to see him make a jumper, get an offensive rebound, and attempt more than two free throws.
-Shaq was much more good than bad tonight. He got in there, made some tough baskets, got the Celtics in foul trouble, and even knocked down free throws. He forced things from the post a few times, but he was much more involved off the ball than he’s been. Actually, the interior passing in general was good by the Cavs tonight. The problem was they couldn’t keep the floor spaced.
-Anthony Parker and Delonte: 3-14 from the floor. After making tough shot after tough shot in game three, Delonte went 0-7 in game four. Really, really not good.
-Well, Mo Williams got his first threes of the series and managed to get in the paint a few times. He still had a bad game. He absolutely, positively cannot get loose against Rondo on the perimeter, even when he uses a pick — it really seems to be having an impact on the Cavs’ ability to run their sets. Freaking Rondo.
-The Cavs gave up five layups in the five minutes Hickson was on the floor. They also gave up three points on free throws. Both fouls were committed by Hickson.
Bullets of Randomness:
-Rondo’s biggest adjustment was to go hard to the hole and look for contact instead of waiting for the driving lanes to be there. He wasn’t making that many buckets in the half-court, but he got to the line over and over and made his free throws. That and the Celtics’ effort to push the ball is what allowed Rondo to go off like he did. Also, he had more offensive rebounds than the Cavaliers did. Good lord.
-Even on a night where he went 8-21 from the floor, it’s beautiful to watch Ray Allen play offense. He’s so good running the offense off that pin-down — he can score the ball from any angle going to the basket, and his passing is vastly underrated. Sometimes I wonder what he’d do if he looked to run the offense and drive more in the half-court and only go for the jumper if he was really and truly left open — he could have a TS% of 65.
-Shaq and LeBron were the only Cavaliers to outscore Tony Allen. He brought a lot of energy, but his big game is a clear indication of how lazy the Cavs were about watching the weak side. The Celtics should not have been able to get away with Perkins, Tony Allen, and Rondo on the floor at the same time offensively.
Alright, that’s about all I have right now. Biggest game of the season at the Q on Tuesday. Get ready.