Without star SG Donovan Mitchell, who did not play because of a calf injury, the Boston Celtics were expected to blow Cleveland out of the water.

They never got the memo, as for the first time in the series, the two teams played in crunch time. The Celtics attempted to throw away a playoff game as -12.5 favorites, according to ESPN Bet. But Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 60 points as the Celtics’ stars fought tooth and nail to allow Boston a chance to close out on home court.

Early on, the Celtics did not mess around and tried to render the game uncompetitive. After the Cavs started on an 8-2 run, Boston answered with 12 straight points and finished the first quarter with a 37-30 lead. Tatum carried the offensive load in the opening frame, shooting 4-7 from the field and knocking down 16 points.

The second quarter played out much like the end of the first. Jrue Holiday knocked down back-to-back buckets. Cleveland called a timeout as they trailed 46-33. From that point on, the Cavs responded much to the delight of the booming Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter!

A week of sports news in your in-box.
We find the sports news you need to know, so you don't have to.

Max Strus shot 3-4 from beyond the arc in the second quarter alone and started the game 5-5 from long range. Cleveland stayed in the game because of their three-point shooting, as they finished the first half 44% from deep. After being held scoreless in the first, Mitchell’s running mate, Darius Garland, went 4-8 with 11 points as the Cavs cut the deficit to just five going into halftime.

Cleveland started the same way they finished the first half and took the lead, 65-64, with a formula of intensity, potent shooting and physical defense. Joe Mazzula elected to call a timeout just three minutes into the third as the game looked to be getting away from Boston. The stoppage in play proved the right decision, as the Celtics finished the quarter with poise and determination. Brown and Tatum would score nine of Boston’s following 11 points on points in the paint or free throws. The Celtics finished the third with a double-digit lead and seemed to be coasting to a game-four victory after a rocky start.

Cleveland had other ideas.

After Boston took their largest lead of the game with a 98-83 advantage, Cleveland threw their last, best punch. In just over a minute of game action, the Cavs cut the deficit to seven with two threes and a layup. At the same time, the Celtics offense went stagnant as Boston tried to play one-on-one instead of their drive-and-kick offense, which contributed heavily to their success throughout the season. Evan Mobley sealed inside position and sunk in a layup as the Cavaliers trailed 100-95 with just over three minutes to go. It seemed that Boston would blow this one, and Cleveland’s never-say-die attitude could push them over the line.

Tatum met the moment and turned out the lights in Northeast Ohio.

On the next possession, he drove hard to the rack and forced in a layup to stop the bleeding. A minute later, he gained inside position on his defender and forced the Cavs to help, which left Brown wide open on the wing. Tatum found his teammate as Brown splashed home three points, and the Celtics led by eight with just over a minute to go. Eventually, Boston would make their free throws and put the victory on ice, a hard-fought 109-102 win.

The Celtics do not like to make these games easy on themselves but credit the Cavs for not giving up and creating a contest when many thought the game was over before tip-off. Ultimately, the Celtics roster was too deep and talented for Cleveland to match up with for 48 minutes.

Read more about:

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

Listen to the uInterview Podcast!
Get the most-revealing celebrity conversations with the uInterview podcast!