Cavs struggle against 2 opponents in Game 4 loss to Celtics

Tony Nguyen | Boston Celtics
May 14, 2024

By the time the final buzzer sounded in their 109-102 Game 4 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Cleveland Cavaliers knew they had given their all. Even without Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen, several Cavs players stood up to the formidable, star-studded Celtics and went down swinging.

But playing for pride only goes so far when Cleveland felt like they were playing against not just Boston, but the officials as well. It bubbles into frustration and, when looking at the numbers, it’s understandable why the Cavs weren’t only mad, but were also disappointed that they only shot seven free throws while the Celtics had 24 attempts at the line.

Cavs against the world (and the refs) in Game 4

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J. B. Bickerstaff reacts against the Boston Celtics in the second quarter of game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

“I was disappointed with the way the whistle blew tonight,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said following the loss. “I thought our guys deserved much better the way they were competing. They were attacking the paint. They were getting after it, the same as both teams were. We’re not asking for anything more. We’re asking for equal. I don’t think we got an equal opportunity at it tonight.”

“This is our second time in the playoffs under 10 free throws,” Darius Garland vented postgame. “I’m not going to go into it, but that’s ridiculous for the amount of drives we have, the amount of paint attacks, whatever you want to call it.

“It’s really tough just having seven free throws in a basketball game when they’re getting 24. I’m not one of the refs. I’m not one of those guys with a striped shirt. But I know how many times I get hit, I know how many times my teammates get hit and put on the floor, and we can’t reciprocate it. Seven free throws and two of them were techs. It’s tough.”

Sure, 51% of Cleveland’s total attempts were from the perimeter, limiting opportunities to draw contact and get to the line. Even then, the officiating crew made a questionable call at the expense of sharpshooter Sam Merrill, who was hit hard by Boston guard Jrue Holiday on the closeout.

But, when breaking down the remaining 49% of the Cavs’ shots, more than half of them were at the rim or within the restricted area. So, to Garland’s credit, knowing how rough and physical playoff basketball can be, Cleveland has a right to be frustrated about the uneven officiating.

“We drive the ball … a lot,” Garland said, emphasizing how often Cleveland attacks the basket.“Seven free throws, two of those were techs, so five (free throws) in a 48-minute game, it’s tough.”

In his postgame venting session, Garland mentioned that this isn’t the first time the Cavs had been limited at the foul line in the playoffs. In a Game 6 loss to the Orlando Magic, the Cavs attempted just 10 foul shots to the Magic’s 26, which frustrated players.

But, as this Eastern Conference Semifinals series continues, Cleveland is only ranked 12th out of 16 playoff teams with 17.5 foul shots per game. Moreover, in this series with Boston, the Celtics are shooting nearly seven more free throws per game compared to the paltry amount the Cavs have been getting.

While Cleveland cannot control the officiating and only how they play, they should be rewarded for their physicality with equal opportunities at the charity stripe. Especially since this isn’t the regular season, where the Cavs have to let this roll off their back and focus on the next opponent. It’s the playoffs and right now, Cleveland is on the brink of elimination. Maybe they wouldn’t be if the officiating seemed more grounded.