CLEVELAND – Boston is bracing itself for a haymaker punch that it expects to be thrown by the defending champions at the start of Tuesday night’s Game 4. Fortunately, the C’s are confident in their ability to dodge it.
The general sentiment around the NBA is that the Celtics poked the bear Sunday night by beating Cleveland on its home court during Game 3 while limiting LeBron James to only 11 points while he committed six turnovers. James and the Cavs are now ticked off, many believe, and they’ll come out with a devastating swing to open up Game 4.
Funny thing is, that’s exactly what happened during Game 3, and guess who came out victorious in the end?
The Cavs cashed in on 14 3-pointers during the first half of Sunday’s matchup, including nine during the first quarter alone. They led by as many as 18 points during the opening two quarters and pulled ahead 66-50 at the break.
“I mean, they scored 66 on us in the first half,” Brad Stevens responded Monday afternoon, after being asked about what the Cavs may bring to the table to open Game 4. “It felt pretty purposeful when it happened.”
The Celtics, however, stayed within striking distance by playing with purpose themselves.
“We come right back at them,” Marcus Smart said of how Boston responded to the Cavs Sunday night, and how it will do so again Tuesday night should Cleveland come out firing on all cylinders. “Attack them right back. Put them back on their heels and make them guard us.”
Playing with that type of confidence and aggressive mindset was not a part of Boston’s game during the first two matchups of this series. Cleveland struck first during both Games 1 and 2, and that broke the Celtics’ collective spirit. Such was not the case Sunday night as the Cavs drained 3-pointer after 3-pointer.
“I thought we weathered it reasonably well all things considered, because I thought we played well in the first half,” Stevens said of the opening-game barrage. “But some of those shots were incredible.
“We just have to realize it’s a long game. We can’t get too up or too down. We can’t have what happened in Game 1 or 2 where they go on a run and we let it affect our next play happen. That’s the biggest thing.”
The Celtics expect to have to abide by those rules again Tuesday night. They’re of the same belief as many around the NBA in that they expect James and his Cavs to enter Game 4 looking to make a statement.
“We know LeBron is going to come out even stronger than he has in Games 1 and 2, but we’ve got to be willing to take that punch and keep fighting,” said Smart.
Avery Bradley added of the Cavs as a whole, “They’re going to come out with a different mentality next game, and we understand that and it’s our job to make sure that we’re prepared from the start of the game.”
Cleveland could very well open up Game 4 with electric play highlighted by a rejuvenated and refocused James. That was enough to knock the Celtics out in the early moments of Games 1 and 2.
It wasn’t enough to knock Boston on its heels during Game 3, however.
The Celtics figured out a way to dodge Cleveland’s opening-game haymaker and maintain their poise and purpose. In the end, it was Boston that came out on top, and it plans to do so again Tuesday night.