8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Cavaliers -6.5, Over/Under: 206.5
One Team looks to draw even as the other looks to take a commanding lead as the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Boston Celtics in a pivotal Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals from Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. After handling the 3-Time Reigning Eastern Conference Champions with startling ease throughout the first two games of this Series, the Celtics (55-27, 2nd in Eastern Conference) will be looking to make a giant leap in order to slay the East’s resident giant: win on the road. In these Playoffs, Boston has been downright dominant at home, winning each of their Nine Games contested in the friendly confines of TD Garden, including the first two outings of this particular Series, and by a comfortable margin at that, besting Cleveland by a combined Thirty-Eight Points. However, traveling away from home has been a different proposition altogether, for Brad Stevens’ charges have won only once in six chances on their opponent’s turf, which is some rather shameful foreshadowing before we get to the topic of Game Three. Needless to say, this team has been nothing if not consistent, for as startlingly impressive as they looked in Games One and Two, they took Saturday’s 116-86 debacle on the proverbial chin. This one was never close, folks, as the Visiting Side looked unprepared from the jump, getting outscored 32-17 in the First Quarter alone, and proved unable to close the gap at all the rest of the way. Offensively, they were pretty dreadful, even against one of the worst defensive teams in the league, shooting a miserable 39.2% from the Field, including 6-of-22 from beyond the Arc (27.3%), while nearly turning the Basketball over (15 times) as they managed Assists (16). Hell, if it wasn’t for the fact that managed to knock down 22-of-28 Free-Throws (78.6%), then the score would have appeared even more lopsided that it was. Things really fell off the rails early, as the Celtics committed Four Turnovers while netting just 2-of-10 Attempts from the Floor while the Hosts went on a stellar 27-11 run in the first stanza. Furthermore, their blossoming cache of young talent struggled to make much of an impact; Rookie Swingman Jayson Tatum (13.9 PTS, 47.5% FG, 43.4% 3FG, 5.0 REB, 1.6 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.7 BLK, 15.3 PER) wasn’t nearly as impactful as he’s been in these Playoffs, scoring Eighteen Points on 6-of-10 Shooting (60.0%), while newfound folk hero Terry Rozier (11.3 PTS, 39.5% FG, 4.7 REB, 2.9 AST, 1.0 STL, 15.1 PER) added just Thirteen Points 5-of-12 Shooting (41.7%) with as many Turnovers (2) as Assists. And then there is Jaylen Brown (14.5 PTS, 46.5% FG, 39.5% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 1.6 AST, 1.0 STL, PER, 13.6), who after averaging 23.0 Points in the first two contests, succumbed to Foul Trouble, scoring Ten Points on 3-of-8 Shooting (37.5%) in just over Twenty Minutes of action. Even veteran Big Man Al Horford (12.9 PTS, 48.9% FG, 42.9% 3FG, 7.4 REB, 4.7 AST, 1.1 BLK, 17.6 PER), who had been embarrassing his counterpart throughout the former outings, was little more than an afterthought, totaling Seven Points on 2-of-4 Shooting (50.0%). While many of us expected this to happen far earlier in the Postseason, but Saturday’s Loss proved just how much they miss the likes of Gordon Hayward (21.9 PTS, 47.1% FG, 39.8% 3FG, 5.4 REB, 3.5 AST, 1.0 STL, 22.2 PER in 2016-2017) and more importantly Kyrie Irving (24.4 PTS, 49.1% FG, 40.8% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 5.1 AST, 1.1 STL, 25.0 PER). The pair of All-Stars were acquired in the Offseason to effectively vault this team into a different stratosphere, but both have been riddled with injuries, with the former suffering a gruesome dislocated ankle in the Season Opener (against the Cavs, no less), while the other was shut down for the Playoffs after undergoing surgery to quell swelling in his knee. The prospect of Irving competing against the same team that he helped propel to three consecutive NBA Finals was pure drama at it’s finest, but sadly we’ll have to wait another year to see that happen. With that said, his ability to create opportunities for both himself and his teammates is a precious commodity that Boston sorely needs at the moment, as Stevens has ran the majority of the Offense through the Horford in the High-Post.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s blowout victory in Game Three was precisely what the Cavaliers (50-32, 4th in Eastern Conference) needed to get themselves back on track in this, their fourth straight appearance in Eastern Conference Finals. Officially the most compelling team in the history of sporting in Western Civilization, the Cavs been an utterly fascinating team to watch this season, and thankfully that has carried over to the Playoffs, where their strengths and weaknesses have been on full display. After looking as vulnerable as ever against the surprisingly game Indiana Pacers in the First Round, LeBron James (27.5 PTS, 54.2% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 8.6 REB, 9.1 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.9 BLK, 28.6 PER) & Co. looked unstoppable in sweeping the top-seeded Toronto Raptors (yet again) in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, before getting absolutely humbled in Games One and Two in Boston. Simply put, they looked like they were completely done. In Game One’s 108-83 debacle, the Visiting Side trailed by as many as Twenty-Eight Points, while James looked shockingly human, scoring just Fifteen Points on 5-of-16 Shooting from the Field (31.3%), while missing all five of his Attempts from Downtown, with nearly as many Turnovers (7) as Assists (9). However, in Game Two it was vintage Playoff LeBron, with the 3-Time NBA Champion and 4-Time MVP putting forth a herculean effort with a Forty-Two Point Triple-Double (10 REB, 12 AST), leading the charge early as he scored Twenty-One of Cleveland’s first Twenty-Seven Points. The only problem was that the end result didn’t change much, with the Visitors falling into an 0-2 Hole in the 107-94 Defeat. If there was ever a time in which James needed the support of his teammates it was in Game Three, which continued to prove the theory of Role Players rising to the occasion at home in the Playoffs. In Saturday’s 116-86 Victory, all Five Starters scored in Double-Figures, with James totaling Twenty-Seven Points on 8-of-12 Shooting (66.7%), George Hill (9.4 PTS, 44.4% FG, 35.1% 3FG, 2.7 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.6 BLK, 12.2 PER) and Kevin Love (17.6 PTS, 45.8% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 9.3 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.4 BLK, 22.4 PER) each adding another Thirteen Points, while the sharpshooting Kyle Korver (9.2 PTS, 45.9% FG, 43.6% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.4 STL, 0.4 BLK, 13.4 PER) poured in Fourteen Points on 5-of-5 Shooting (4-of-4 3FG) coming off the Bench. Tyronn Lue’s charges shot a solid 48.7% from the Field, including a blistering 17-of-34 from beyond the Arc (50.0%), outscoring the Celtics in this regard by a staggering Thirty-Three Points. Furthermore, the ball-movement was excellent, assisting on Twenty-Three of their Thirty-Seven Field Goals, with the Bench outscoring Boston’s 42-29. Cleveland were clearly the aggressors in this matchup, pushing the tempo whenever possible, while getting physical with their younger counterparts. And with that said, the mission becomes clear: the Cavs are looking to become just twentieth team in NBA History (out of over 300) to successfully overcome an 0-2 Series Deficit, though they have some experience in this department, having pulled that very same trick in besting the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. Furthermore, they have now won six consecutive Playoff Games at Quicken Loans Arena, with James pushing his personal Postseason Record with his hometown team against the Celtics to 14-6. However, the most ominous figure of all remains 37-0, which is their opponent’s Franchise Record in the Playoffs when taking the first Two Games of a Series.