For the first half of Tuesday's Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics picked up where they left off in Game 3 in quieting LeBron James.
In fact, they completely silenced him midway through the second quarter, as James picked up not one, not two, not three, but four personal fouls with over six minutes remaining in the second quarter. James took a seat with Boston up 10 points in the quarter. And when the horn sounded at the end of the first half? Boston led by . . . 10 points.
And perhaps that was a sign of things to come. The C's couldn't capitalize with James out, and when the third quarter rolled around, Kyrie Irving was ready to step up in a huge way.
Irving scored 21 points in the third quarter (tying a Cavs record with James in 2010) on his way to 42 on the night.
"When you have a special player like Bron on your team, sometimes you can get caught watching and you allow him to be great," Irving said after Game 4. "In the case of occasional games where it's my job to be aggressive in all facets and keep us within the game and constantly stay in attack mode, we're quite a different team."
James came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points, but that was after Irving put the team on his back and gave them a lead.
It just may be that while James is the best player in the Eastern Conference, Irving is the second-best.
That certainly complicates things for a Celtics team now down 3-1 fighting for its life Friday night.
Adjusting without IT
Everybody spent so much attention on how the Celtics would adjust on offense without Isaiah Thomas in their lineup, that nobody considered that the Cavaliers would also have to adjust to defending the Celtics without Thomas. We saw that in Game 4 when the Celtics staged a dramatic second-half comeback, and Brad Stevens drew up three plays out of timeouts in the final minute that his team scored on. But if this series has become a chess match, the move is once again Brad Stevens' as Tyronn Lue and the Cavs countered. "They had to kind of re-shape [without Thomas], and that's the beauty of having Brad Stevens as your coach, you're able to reshape what you do offensively and still have good rhythm," James said. "It's been challenging for us to kind of- plays out of timeouts… keeping us off-balance but in the second half [of Game 4] we got a little bit of rhythm and I think it'll be a lot better in Game 5."
The Celtics assist-turnover ratio ranked third in the NBA during the regular season, at 1.902 (that's 1.9 assists per turnover). They move the ball and limit turnovers better than almost every team in the NBA. So it made sense that in Game 4, when they only turned the ball over three times in the first half, that they were sitting pretty with a ten-point lead. The Cavs only had two points off turnovers, while Boston had 13. Unfortunately for the C's, they got sloppy in the third, turning it over six times. The Cavs scored 13 points off C's turnovers in the second half, compared with just four points for Boston. Cleveland also won the fast break points battle, 16-4. You just can't give possessions away against the Cavs.
Have C's redeemed themselves?
Sure, Boston ended up losing Game 4 - and heck the Cavs almost covered in the end, too. But if you're a Celtics fan you have to feel a lot better about the team than you did after their embarrassing Game 2 loss at home. Be honest, you didn't think the Celtics would be playing another game in the TD Garden again this season. But here we are. Celtics fans can at least hang their hats on something going into this game, having seen that their team can toughen up and compete against the Cavs. It's shaping up to be another epic battle against James . . . or will one of his teammates once again come to the rescue?