Three Takeaways After Celtics Seize Control Over Cavs In Game 4

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While LeBron James sat courtside, the Boston Celtics took advantage of an undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday night.

Granted, the Cavaliers didn’t go down like a sack of potatoes. Even while Donovan Mitchell sat on Cleveland’s bench in street clothes with a left calf injury, the Cavs — without their leading scorer and rebounder (Jarrett Allen) — still managed to play competitively and hang with the Celtics until Boston made it away with a 109-102 victory at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Cleveland’s scrappy performance might’ve stunned those tunning in and those in attendance, too, but not the Celtics.

“I’m not surprised at all. They’re a really good team,” Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said, per CLNS Media. “I thought they got out and ran. Thought they made a conscious effort to fight for open looks and they forced us into some turnovers in the first half to the transition. Not surprised at all by how hard they played and I bet they play even better next game.”

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Going 2-for-2 on the road in Cleveland now gives Boston yet another chance to close out a playoff series at home in Game 5. Only this time, it could send the Celtics to the conference finals for a third straight season.

Here are three takeaways from C’s-Cavs Game 4:

1. Jayson Tatum hears the outside noise — loud and clear
With fingers pointed Tatum’s way from every street corner, the 26-year-old was due for a response to get the Celtics on track in Cleveland.

Tatum hadn’t risen to the occasion when the series began in Boston, playing passively, which gave the Cavaliers an inadvertent advantage. Instead of attacking the basket and dominating the floor, Tatum deferred to hand-off feeds and decoyed Cleveland’s defense to find open looks for teammates. It worked in Game 1, but that’s only because Derrick White went berserk as ascended as one of the league’s best 3-point threats for a stretch.

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Without Mitchell on the floor to lead the Cavaliers and challenge the Celtics for four quarters, the eyes were drawn toward Tatum (yet again). This time, however, whatever scheme Cleveland head coach J.B. Bickerstaff had jotted down, it wasn’t enough to stop Tatum from sealing the deal.

Tatum finished with a 33-point (game-high), 11-rebound double-double, giving the Cavaliers enough problems to drown their bid at a 2-2 tie. He’s scored 33 points in back-to-back postseason games, signaling a lit fuse.

2. Jaylen Brown out-villain’d Max Strus
In the second quarter, Brown was charged with a common foul after getting tangled up with Strus, triggering an outpour of boos from Cleveland fans.

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Brown finished with 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting and walked off the floor without a care in the world about how Cavaliers fans felt about the tense interaction with Strus.

“I embrace it,” Brown said, per NBC Sports Boston. “I drove to the basket, feel like there was some contact, finished the play, landed on the ground, and I felt somebody kicking me in the back on the head. And I feel like I got the right to protect that. I wasn’t trying to do nothing there or trip nobody up. At the same time, you ain’t about to just kick me in the head.”

Strus committed a clear-as-day hacking foul on Boston’s Al Horford in Game 1, collecting the majority of boos from Celtics fans after pleading a faulty case with the officials. None of those villainous antics amounted to anything, highlighting the primary difference between Strus and Brown: one is capable of taking over while the other was an ineffective loudmouth in Game 1.

3. Boston (still) doesn’t appreciate its gifted opportunities
New series, same issue, right?

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It’s become repetitive and growingly difficult to watch fate roll out a red carpet for the Celtics to take advantage of, and regardless of how many times they acknowledge “wake-up call” losses, nothing changes. Isn’t that the whole point of a learning lesson; to learn a lesson and prevent history from repeating itself? It’s as if Boston has the first half down to a tee.

The Celtics didn’t need to worry about Jimmy Butler in the first round, haven’t faced Allen in Cleveland’s front court, and didn’t need to worry about Mitchell in Game 4. Lady Luck’s been at work trying to assist Boston with the easiest path to the NBA Finals of any team left in playoff contention. Meanwhile, if you look at the West Coast, Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves need to bypass league MVP Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Nuggets in Round 2.

Boston’s been spoiled with chance after chance, and if the Celtics don’t grow a desire for putting opponents away as soon as possible, it’ll prove costly just like it did last season in Game 7.

The Celtics, historically, are 29-0 when leading 3-1 in a best-of-seven series.

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