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5 things we learned as Cavaliers sweep Celtics in not-so-grand finale 04.26.15 at 3:55 pm ET
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Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder said the Celtics wouldn’t go down without a fight, and he was right.

Crowder was involved in two of the half-dozen ugly dust-ups with the Cavaliers, ultimately leaving the game with an apparent knee injury in the ugliest of the bunch, but in the end it didn’t matter how much muscle his team flexed. Cleveland had LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and in the end they were the difference-makers.

As they did all series, the Celtics spent the second half trying to erase a Cavs lead that had ballooned to double digits, and as was the case in their first three attempts, they fell short, losing the game 101-93 and the series 4-0.

James finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while Irving added 24 points and 11 assists. Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Isaiah Thomas added 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds before fouling out. Avery Bradley (16 points) and Marcus Smart (11 points) also reached double figures.

For a complete box score, click here.

ROUGH START

Marcus Smart’s absence from shootaround wasn’t the only late wakeup call for the Celtics. Brad Stevens spent the better part of the past week trying to solve his team’s defensive rebounding woes, and within 95 seconds of Game 4 the Cavaliers are had their second offensive board — leading to five of Cleveland’s first seven points. As a result, Stevens called his quickest timeout as an NBA coach. The intervention on the bench did little to stop the bleeding, as the Cavs reached double-digits in second-chance points and built a 21-point lead by halftime.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA,
5 things we learned as LeBron James, Cavaliers push Celtics to brink 04.23.15 at 9:40 pm ET
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Different building, same script.

Trailing by three late in the fourth quarter, the Celtics had a chance to tie Game 3 at home, but failed to corral an offensive rebound, and Kevin Love made them pay with a wide-open 3-pointer with 2:13 remaining. And once again, the C’s submitted an inspired effort, but had no answer for LeBron James, who amassed 31 points and 11 rebounds in a 103-95 victory that gave his Cavaliers a 3-0 series lead.

The Celtics‘ last opportunity to avoid a sweep comes in Game 4 at the Garden on Sunday afternoon.

On Thursday, Evan Turner enjoyed his best game of the series, collecting 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but failed to match a dominant performance by the game’s greatest active player. Jae Crowder added 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench, and Avery Bradley scored 18, albeit on 18 shots. Jared Sullinger (10 points, 8 rebounds) was the only other Celtic in double figures. After scoring 22 points in each of his first two playoff appearances, Isaiah Thomas finished with only five points on 2-of-9 shooting.

For a complete box score, click here.

LAYUP LINE

In the first 1:18, LeBron James got to the rim with ease on back-to-back possessions, giving the Cavaliers an early 4-0 lead. After an uncontested 3-pointer from Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov beat Tyler Zeller on the block twice in a row — dunking over the C’s center and driving around him for an uncontested layup. A third drive to the basket delivered Cleveland a 15-10 lead and forced the first Celtics timeout.

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5 things we learned as Cavaliers hold off Celtics for 2-0 series lead 04.21.15 at 9:41 pm ET
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The Celtics achieved almost everything they set out to do in Game 2 — as Avery Bradley terrorized Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers shot just 24.1 percent from 3-point range and the C’s out-rebounded Cleveland on the offensive glass — and yet they still lost by eight.

Despite all that went right for the Celtics, they still had no answer for LeBron James, who finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in a 99-91 victory that gave the Cavaliers a 2-0 series lead. Even with Bradley all over him, Irving managed 26 points, six assists and five boards, spoiling what may have been the C’s best chance for a win.

“Obviously, they’re great players,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said in his postgame press conference. “I thought we challenged Kyrie a little bit better. He’s a hard one because he gets fouled on some of those jump shots. That’s tough, but he’s a really explosive ball-handler and scorer. And when LeBron just puts his shoulder down and wants to get to where he wants to go, it’s hard to stop him from getting there. But I thought our guys actually did a pretty good job on different plays. … Those guys are hard to stop, but that’s why we can’t start the third quarter slowly and that’s why we’ve got to finish plays. That’s why every issue we’re having is magnified.”

Isaiah Thomas again led the Celtics with 22 points and seven assists. Jared Sullinger added 14 points, Tyler Zeller scored 11 and Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart each netted 10.

For a complete box score, click here.

BRINGING THE ENERGY

Midway through the first quarter, Brandon Bass wrestled an offensive rebound from Tristan Thompson and LeBron James, and then kicked it out to an open Marcus Smart, who knocked down a 3-pointer that pushed the Celtics‘ lead to 16-8 and forced the Cavs’ first timeout. It was indicative of a tremendous early effort by the Celtics. They matched their Game 1 total of seven offensive boards in the first quarter of Game 2 and added eight points off five Cleveland turnovers in the opening 12 minutes, taking a 26-25 lead after one.

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J.R. Smith compares Avery Bradley to Kobe Bryant, and not in a good way 04.20.15 at 2:58 pm ET
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Granted, Sunday’s game between the Cavaliers and Celtics was questionably officiated, but J.R. Smith hardly has a case he didn’t deserve all four of his fouls — and maybe even more. But that didn’t stop the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year from complaining.

So, apparently Smith thinks Avery Bradley is getting superstar treatment, which is … interesting … since the Celtics guard attempted all of zero free throws, and Smith somehow still managed to complain after trucking Kelly Olynyk like a linebacker.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, J.R. Smith
Lou Williams wins Sixth Man over Isaiah Thomas 04.20.15 at 12:57 pm ET
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Raptors guard Lou Williams beat Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year honor by a significant margin, the league announced on Monday morning.

Williams received 78 of the 130 possible first-place votes from a panel of sportswriters. His 34 second-place votes and 10 third-place votes gave him a total of 502 points. Meanwhile, Thomas received 33 first-place votes, 46 second-place votes and 21 third-place votes for a total of 324 points — the second-highest total in the voting.

Williams appeared on 122 of 130 ballots, as Jamal Crawford (131 points), Andre Iguodala (100), Tristan Thompson (33), Nikola Mirotic (24), Marreese Speights (20), Corey Brewer (12), Manu Ginobili (12), Taj Gibson (8), Aaron Brooks (1), Chris Kaman (1), Anthony Morrow (1) and Dennis Schroder (1) all received votes. How 30 writers left Thomas off the ballot entirely is a mystery.

We’ve already covered in great deal why Thomas deserved the award over Williams, so we won’t get too far into the weeds here, except to say Thomas averaged more points, assists and rebounds while shooting better from everywhere on the floor and submitting a superior player efficiency rating.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Lou Williams, NBA
Irish Coffee: Should Jae Crowder start against LeBron James? 04.20.15 at 12:36 pm ET
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Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder

Game 1 went pretty much according to script for the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose big three combined for 69 points, 13 assists and five offensive rebounds in a 113-100 victory. And while the Celtics did a decent job of containing LeBron James, they enjoyed much greater success with Jae Crowder defending the four-time NBA MVP than starting wing Evan Turner.

So, should Celtics coach Brad Stevens consider starting Crowder over Turner in Game 2? Based on the evidence from their first showing in Cleveland, Stevens must at least play Crowder with greater regularity opposite James in the superstar’s 40-plus minutes.

LeBron played a total of 42 minutes in Cleveland’s Game 1 victory, and Crowder only shared the court with him for roughly half of that time period (20.2). Now, consider this number: The Celtics were 38.7 points per 100 possessions better with Crowder opposite LeBron than with their hard-nosed forward on the bench, according to NBA.com/stats.

In 20.2 minutes with Crowder on the floor, LeBron was a minus-7 against the C’s, finishing 3-for-8 from the field (0-for-4 from mid-range) to go along with four assists and four turnovers. In 21.8 minutes with Crowder on the bench, James was a plus-10, going 5-for-10 (5-for-5 in the paint) with three assists and one turnover. Granted, that’s a limited sample size, but the eye test bears out a similar discrepancy.

Let’s first examine each of LeBron’s eight shot attempts with Crowder on the floor.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, LeBron James, NBA
5 things we learned as Cavaliers take Game 1 from Celtics in convincing fashion 04.19.15 at 5:38 pm ET
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The Celtics kept LeBron James in relative check, and still lost Game 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers by double digits — an ominous sign for the remainder of their first-round playoff series.

James finished with 20 points on 18 shots and added seven assists with five turnovers, so instead Kyrie Irving made the Celtics pay, scoring 30 points in a 113-100 victory that gave the Cavs a 1-0 series lead. Kevin Love added a double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds).

“Offensively, we were good in the first half, and defensively we were good in the second, but we never really put it together,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “And I’m not overstating this: Credit them; they’re really good.”

The Celtics actually owned the lead 20 minutes into the game, thanks to 55 points from their bench, but couldn’t overcome Cleveland’s 15 offensive rebounds and 13 3-pointers. Isaiah Thomas led six C’s in double figures with 22 points and 10 assists. Kelly Olynyk and Evan Turner added 12 points apiece, while Brandon Bass, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder each added 10, but it wasn’t enough to match Cleveland’s relentless attack.

“We’ll learn from it and improve from it,” added Stevens. “Very simple. Don’t want to overdo do it. This is a long series, and I think we have to learn from what we didn’t do well and try to continue what we did do well — and do it more often.”

For the complete box score, click here.

SOLID START

After the first quarter, this series seemed like it might go longer than anyone anticipated. The Celtics scored 31 points on 57.1 percent shooting, taking a 31-27 lead into the second frame. Tyler Zeller did the damage with six points against his former team early, Turner drained a corner 3-pointer to tie the game at 11 midway through the first quarter, and the bench carried the load late to take a 31-27 lead.

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