The key to beating a star-studded Cleveland Cavaliers team is by playing disciplined, tactical basketball. That’s what the Boston Celtics took away from Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Quicken Loans Arena.
The C’s committed just three turnovers during the first half of Tuesday night’s contest, and, as a result, they found themselves up by as many as 16 points midway through the second quarter. Maintaining such discipline for a full 48 minutes, however, proved to be another challenge in and of itself.
Boston’s fluid passing and near-flawless offensive approach broke down somewhat during the second half, and the Cavs unsurprisingly took advantage of its mistakes. The C’s, who led 57-47 at halftime, saw their turnover total triple after the break, which allowed Cleveland to take control and take off for a 112-99 win.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game that the nine second-half turnovers “were killer for us. We can’t turn the ball over that much because it leads to points.”
Cleveland provided plenty of evidence to back up that statement. The Cavs nearly reached their first-half point total during the third quarter alone, as they put 40 on the board during the third frame.
Many of those points were scored off of Boston’s turnovers. The C’s coughed up the ball four times during a two-minute span at the start of the third quarter, which allowed Cleveland to quickly chip away at its deficit.
According to Avery Bradley, his coach had warned the team about ball control ahead of the matchup.
“That [was an] emphasis that Brad had at the beginning of the game,” Bradley recalled. “To make sure we’re getting good shots because that helps our defense … but we were forcing the ball a little bit, not making the same passes we were making in the first half. And against a team like this, you don’t have room for errors like that because it usually leads to buckets on the other end.”
The bad news for the Celtics is that their lack of discipline during the second half enabled the Cavs to take a 3-1 series advantage, meaning Boston will be facing elimination Thursday night.
The good news? The C’s know how to stop Cleveland, and they proved that they could during the early goings of Tuesday’s contest.
“I thought that we played as well as we’ve played maybe the entire Playoffs in the first half,” Stevens reflected.
Not only on the offensive end, but on the defensive end as well. The Celtics were able to disrupt Cleveland’s explosive offensive unit during the first half by forcing nine turnovers thanks to their pesky, on-ball defense.
“We know we can score the basketball, but these guys, they do a great job of pressuring you,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “Avery, (Jae) Crowder, (Marcus) Smart, (Terry) Rozier, they do a good job of pressuring the basketball. They’re a tough, competitive team, so defensively they get a lot of deflections and a lot of steals. We had a couple turnovers that were unforced, but for the most part I thought they forced those turnovers.”
Forcing a lot of turnovers while keeping their own mistakes at a minimum will be critical for the Celtics Thursday night as they attempt to keep their season alive in Game 5.
“We know that we have a small margin (of error),” said Stevens. “But we know that if we play the next play the right way, we’ve got a chance to win that possession. You just try to add those up to win the game, and again, I thought our guys did a lot of good things.”
The Celtics know they are capable of playing disciplined, tactical basketball against Cleveland, and they understand that doing so is the key to beating the defending NBA champions. Boston played that way for 24 minutes Tuesday night, but it wasn’t enough. It will need to play 48 minutes of near-flawless basketball Thursday night in order to have any hope of forcing a Game 6.