By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In case you fast-forwarded the last two games out of a belief that you already knew what was going to happen, allow me to confirm to you that the Celtics were indeed run out of The Q two times in three days.
That may even be too kind to the Celtics. The Cavaliers wrapped things up by halftime in what finished as a 30-point victory over the Celtics in Game 3, and the Celtics then surrendered the most first-half points they have during the entire season (that includes regular season and postseason contests) in Game 4’s 111-102 loss.
And just like that, Boston’s once-commanding 2-0 series lead has evaporated into thin air.
Now, the stats and trends say that Wednesday’s Game 5 at TD Garden will see the Green improve to a staggering 10-0 at home this postseason and send this series back to Cleveland with Boston holding a 3-2 series edge.
But speaking honestly, you would be a fool to have an ounce of confidence when this series does indeed shift back to Cleveland (which it does, win or lose), and we’re kind of running out of excuses to let the C’s off the hook for their road woes.
Contrary to popular belief, the Celtics are not too young to win on the road.
Last night was the 108th playoff game of Al Horford’s career, and his 51st career road playoff game. Before this season’s garbage 1-6 road record, Horford’s teams had won eight of their last 20 road games. It’s not the greatest, but it’s a lot better than 1-6. Horford, by the way, finished Game 4 with just 15 points in 41 minutes behind a 5-for-13 night from the field.
This moment was too big for Jaylen Brown in last year’s third-round meeting between the undermanned C’s and Cavs, but Brown has done his part to back up his bravado this postseason. Even in this series. But the shift to Cleveland saw Brown put up a combined minus-29 rating, and with a 11 percent drop in his shot (down from 52.9 percent in Boston to 41.9 percent).
And like Brown, Terry Rozier also got a taste of this stage’s bright lights a year ago, though in a far more limited role. His postseason progression, which saw him school a vet in Eric Bledsoe and make countless big shots for the Celtics, should not see him miss two out of three free throws when gifted on a total non-foul in the fourth quarter of a close game.
Grinders like six-year veterans Aron Baynes (an NBA champion in 2014) and the industrious seven-year pro Marcus Morris should be used to this stage by now, and Marcus Smart has to do more than be serviceable defensively if he’s going to shoot just 2-for-8 and turn the ball over five times (more than every other Celtic combined) like he did in Game 4.
And contrary to popular belief, the referees did not put ‘the fix’ in for Game 4 to extend this series to a sixth game.
We can get hung up on the early foul trouble for Morris, or how he called for one of the worst offensive fouls in NBA history (a would-be three dropped right in Kevin Love’s face to bring the C’s back within striking distance of Cleveland), but we’d also have to acknowledge Love’s foul trouble and the aforementioned phantom foul that sent Rozier to the line. In fact, the Celtics attempted more free throws than the Cavaliers in Game 4, outshooting the Cavs 30-29 at the line.
And as a general rule of thumb, you’re not allowed to bitch about the refs when your team misses 15 layups/dunks, which is exactly what the Celtics did in their series-evening Game 4 defeat. Or when you throw up low-percentage looks from behind the three-point line with a frequency that would make you think that they’re suddenly worth five points, which, again, is exactly what the Green did to take a potential LeBron Elimination Party off this Wednesday’s agenda.
Celtics make even a few of those — or limit the points that came off those misses — and the win is theirs.
“Sometimes you get that way when you’re behind so much,” Brad Stevens said of his team’s largely unsuccessful and undoubtedly rushed offensive tempo. “You try to hit home runs and you try to do that kind of stuff. You’re playing against the best of the best on a great stage, and I thought that we did get hurried a little bit.
“But Cleveland had something to do with that, and we had something to do with that, and we have to be better. You can say until you’re blue in the face; play with poise, find the best shot, continue to move on to the next possession, but there are times where everybody succumbs to getting rushed. We certainly did our fair share of that [in Game 4].”
Listen, everything about this run has been a bonus. Once you got out of the first round, everything after was just a welcomed experience. The Celtics are still essentially vying for the right to lose to Golden State in the fourth round.
But when you’re up 2-0 in a series and have LeBron James on the ropes, you need to go for the throat. You can’t give a player with this mystique an ounce of breathing room, and that’s what they did with their no-shows in The Land. And that’s what will bring this series back to Boston for a Game 7 — the absolute last thing that the Celtics need, given their inexperience in this scenario compared to LeBron and the Cavs — if it’s not snapped upon a return to Quicken Loans Arena. That’s also assuming that the Celtics can stop this James Train and that home-court advantage stays true by 11 p.m. tomorrow night.
Either way, this postseason-long problem has set the C’s up in a position where no excuses will do the trick in Game 6.
So forget Game 5.
Let’s just fast forward to Game 6 in Cleveland, where this season will be decided, one way or another.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.