With a 3-0 lead in their hands, the Cleveland Cavaliers are heading into game 4 of their series with the Boston Celtics knowing they’re one win away from completing the sweep and getting some rest before their next opponents.
LeBron James has been playing like it’s now or never, logging almost 42 minutes per game in the series, but he’s been the one to make most of the difference. He’s averaging 27 points per game (including twice above 30 in the last two), and has been the one constant for the Cavaliers offensively, while both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have had their weaker days.
With the Celtics in ‘pick your poison’ mode defensively, they focused on stopping Irving in the previous game. They managed to hold him to without a field goal until midway through the third quarter. J.R. Smith and Kevin Love stepped up for him, and the Cavaliers still won by 8 points in their “worst” game of the series so far. Not very comforting.
Brad Stevens and the Celtics didn’t head into this series thinking they were going to shock the world. Maybe it was still hiding in the back of their minds somewhere. Who knows, maybe it still is. But being realistic, the Celtics are probably one year ahead of schedule. Just avoiding the sweep and making things more difficult than expected for the Cavaliers is something of an achievement.
One big key for the next game is bringing Isaiah Thomas back to more efficient mode. The backup point guard doesn’t operate within team constraints and it’s usually more about how handles a defense on his own, but offering more firepower from the bench and from those sharing the backcourt with him, Evan Turner or Marcus Smart, could help open up some holes in the Cavaliers defense, holding the Celtics to 95.3 points in the series and 43.1% from the field.
The Celtics need to start stretching the floor. They’ve been hitting just 30.2% of their 3-pointers in the series. This is pointing a finger especially at Avery Bradley and Smart, who haven’t been exactly trigger shy when it comes to the long range shots, but are both hitting them at worse than 28% up to this point. The Celtics can’t afford to have their backcourt misfiring by that much.
Overall this is the story of a more talented and not less-coached team doing what it’s expected to do. The Celtics? They can only get in the way and try to make it a longer series. It seems that it’s impossible for them to hold all three of James-Love-Irving under their best basketball, so it’s going to come down to having an exceptional shooting game in order to keep their season alive.