3 Celtics takeaways from narrow Game 4 win over Cavs

Tony Nguyen | Boston Celtics
May 14, 2024

The Boston Celtics were starting to forget what close games were like, as each of their first eight playoff contests were decided by double digits. That all changed on Monday night. Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers came down to the wire, with Boston prevailing 109-102 and taking a 3-1 series lead.

Despite missing star Donovan Mitchell due to a calf strain, the Cavs refused to go away. They were propelled by the home crowd and never let the Celtics’ lead reach 20 points. The C’s, who were without center Kristaps Porzingis for the fifth game in a row, held on and remained unbeaten on the road in the 2024 NBA Playoffs.

The series will now head back to Beantown for Game 5 on Wednesday evening. Ahead of a series-clinching opportunity for the Celtics, let’s dive into three takeaways from their close win in Cleveland.

A balanced attack has helped the Celtics all season, yet the ups and downs of the playoffs always require flexibility. Rather than relying on every starter scoring in double figures in Game 4, Boston put its faith in stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

After combining for 61 points in Game 3, Tatum and Brown notched 60 points altogether in Game 4. Tatum got off to a red-hot start in the first quarter and even though he cooled down, he consistently rebounded the ball well and hit his free throws. His 33-point performance was a game-high and matched his 33 points from Game 3.

As for Brown, he arguably hit the biggest shot of the entire matchup. With 1:33 left in the fourth quarter, Celtics center Al Horford got called for goaltending, cutting Boston’s lead to just five points.

In response, Brown cashed a crucial 3-pointer on the next possession, giving the Celtics a 105-97 lead with just 1:09 remaining.

Boston’s offense wasn’t perfect in the final frame, as it mustered 21 points on 6-for-17 shooting from the field. However, when the Celtics needed it most, Tatum and Brown delivered in the clutch and essentially clinched the victory.

The dynamic duo also had nine of Boston’s 14 turnovers and took some questionable shots down the stretch. There are still improvements for them to make, but they were the main reason why the C’s are up 3-1 rather than tied 2-2.

Payton Pritchard and Jrue Holiday were the X-factors

The headliners from Game 4 are Tatum and Brown, yet the minutes from guards Jrue Holiday and Payton Pritchard were pivotal in Boston’s tight win.

Early in this second-round series, Holiday was struggling to score, recording just 18 combined points in Games 1 and 2. He then dropped 18 points alone in Game 3 and came up big again in Game 4, posting an impressive stat line of 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, and one block in 43 minutes of play.

A night like this is why the Celtics traded for the two-time All-Star and signed him to a four-year, $135 million extension just before the playoffs. When fellow starters Derrick White and Al Horford couldn’t find any offensive rhythm, Holiday was there to provide timely buckets for the second game in a row.

Behind Holiday in the depth chart is Pritchard, who was a huge boost off the bench for Boston. The Oregon native finished with 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting from the floor and hit another massive shot when the Celtics started to sputter.

After Cavs guard Darius Garland decreased Boston’s lead to just five points with 1:30 left in the third quarter, Pritchard went a mini 5-0 run. The backup point guard made two free throws and then nailed a tough step-back 3-pointer on the next possession to push the Celtics’ lead back to double digits ahead of the final quarter.

If Pritchard can continue to provide off the bench while Holiday elevates his scoring averages, the Celtics should be able to overcome cold stretches from White and Horford.

It could be time for Xavier Tillman in Boston

Speaking of Horford, Game 4 was not his shining moment.

The Celtics veteran missed all four of his shots from beyond the arc and had a rough goaltend that came at a terrible time in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Horford is an abysmal 4-for-22 from 3-point land in the Eastern Conference Semifinals thus far.

With no Porzingis, Horford is the obvious starter for Boston. In spite of his shooting struggles, he’s still one of the Celtics’ best rebounders and he has loads of playoff experience.

That being said, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla should consider splitting his minutes up more between big men Luke Kornet and Xavier Tillman. Kornet had nine points off the bench and played solid defense for the majority of the contest.

Tillman never saw the floor in Game 4, yet he’s a strong defender who’s capable enough to play some minutes. His offensive game is nothing special, however, given Horford’s recent off nights and lack of rest, he could be what the Celtics need.

Cavs center Evan Mobley has troubled the C’s in nearly every game, so another defensive option like Tillman might be able to slow him down. Horford shouldn’t be abandoned, as he’s still a key player in Boston’s rotation. Yet, having another center give the 37-year-old a little reprieve might be worth a shot.