The Boston Celtics need to get their offense back on target if they hope to take back control of the series from the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
They didn’t, as Boston stuck around in a tough 111-102 defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron James finished with 44 points on 17-28 shooting, and much like in Game 3, relied on his role players to provide confidence in themselves, and James. Kyle Korver tallied 14 points on 4-7 from the field, and Tristan Thompson made his presence felt down low with 13 points and 12 rebounds on 6-10 shooting.
Finally, Tyronn Lue’s decision to start the center paid off.
All of sudden, Thompson is starting to do the little things to help his team win. According to Basketball-Reference, his field goal percentage escalated from 58 percent in the 2017 playoffs, to 63 percent in these playoffs.
Thompson also looks engaged while on the floor, and with an uptick in minutes against Boston, he’s managed to have his presence felt. He was a +30 in the Game 3 drubbing of the Celtics, and a +9 in Game 4.
Beyond the stats, Thompson does other jobs that many causal NBA fans rarely notice.
The video below shows Thompson taking advantage of his mismatches on both the offensive end, and the defensive end.
The matchup game was unkind to Terry Rozier, as Cavs players shot 85 percent against him by the start of the fourth quarter.
Thompson was one of those guys who exploited that matchup.
On defense, the center stayed active and had two huge blocks on Marcus Smart and Rozier. The latter block was especially gigantic considering the Boston Celtics cut the lead to nine at that point. The Rozier stuff lead to a LeBron layup and a momentum swing.
Also, if you look closely, Thompson would guard off Al Horford and Aaron Baynes in the paint to clear a path for LeBron drives. It was almost as if he was inadvertently spacing the floor for James to convert easy finishes.
The C’s experienced a rough day on the boards in general, getting out rebounded 47-37. Larry Nance came in with a spark off the bench, adding five big free throws and solidifying his position on the boards. When guys like him convert hustle plays, it only instills more confidence in James.
Lue and company capitalized on a lot more movement off the ball. Sure, LeBron still had 41 in the former contest, but a lot of his points were because of ridiculous threes from almost half court. Cleveland utilized that George Hill-LeBron pick & roll to perfection on Monday, thereby switching Rozier on the much tougher assignment on James. They did not attempt that very often in Game 2.
Surprisingly, according to NBA Stats, Cleveland’s assists percentage was worse in Game 2 than it was in Game 4 (60 percent in Game 2 compared to 36 percent in Game 4). Isolation can work, but moving off the ball and making hustle plays is what can decide a game. Hustle plays are what’s deciding this series so far.
The counterattack for Boston
As expected, the Celtics locked up on defense in the second half, forcing Cleveland to only score 43 points after putting up 68 in the first half. The one problem, they had no one on the offensive end who could create a spark. Moments like these made me wish Kyrie Irving could magically come back.
Every time Boston got within ten points, the Cavs would finish off a huge play with an and-one or a big three. The first quarter ended up being the killer for Boston. When you’re down by 16 after one quarter on the road, it’s hard to come back from that.
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Game 5 is back in Boston which is great considering the C’s are 9-0 in these playoffs when at home.
Simply said, they need to play Celtics basketball in order to win. The last two games saw Cleveland seemingly switching roles with them.
Rozier needs to come back alive on offense, and exert as little energy as possible on the defensive end. In my opinion, Stevens should role with three wings at all times so the chances of a small point guard covering LeBron or Tristan are minimal. Enough of these lineups with Aaron Baynes and Horford. The Boston Celtics are around a -20 in the playoffs with both of them out there on the floor at the same time.
Brad needs a strong first quarter from his guys too. Setting the tone early can put Cleveland’s role players away easily. Thompson will still get his rebounds, but at least the Celtics have a better defensive shot if Marcus Morris is out there rather than Baynes. Hopefully the team has learned their lesson with that situation.
All in all, Game 5 is an obvious must win for Boston. They’re 1-6 on the road, so going back to Cleveland down 3-2 is not an option. Having LeBron lose three times in a row at his favorite road place is a lot to ask for, but it’s not impossible.
The Boston Celtics need to get back to what they do best; getting 50/50 balls, moving off ball, and going all out on defense. If they duo these things, then Boston may be one game away from their first Finals appearance in eight years.