Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla gets 100% real about Donovan Mitchell-less Cavs

Tony Nguyen | Boston Celtics
May 14, 2024

The dominoes are falling into place for the Boston Celtics in their quest to bring home banner number 18. In the first round, the Celtics faced a depleted Miami Heat team that was without Jimmy Butler and Terry Rozier. Now, the Cleveland Cavaliers squad that they are up against is far from its best, as Donovan Mitchell joined Jarrett Allen on the injury list in Game 4 after he sustained a left calf injury. The Celtics then promptly took care of business on Monday, taking a 3-1 lead with a 109-102 victory away from home.

It’s tempting to think that the stars are aligning for the Celtics; if anything, they are more favored than ever to be the last team standing from the Eastern Conference. But head coach Joe Mazzulla is not counting his chickens before they hatch. During his postgame presser, he is not taking the Cavs lightly at all even though it remains unclear if Mitchell or Allen would be back in time for Game 5 on Wednesday.

“They’re a really good team… not surprised at all by how good they played, and I bet they play even better in the next game,” Mazzulla said in his postgame presser, per Noa Dalzell of SB Nation’s Celtics Blog.

Indeed, in the playoffs, there is no such thing as a bad team. Depleted as the Cavs may be, and as difficult as it would be for them to mount a challenge against a Celtics team that finished with the best record in the NBA this past season, nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.

Familiar territory for the Cavs

Plenty of teams went through an injury-ravaged 2023-24 regular season. The Cavs were one of those teams. Donovan Mitchell missed 27 games, Darius Garland missed 25, and Evan Mobley was absent for 32. In a cruel twist of fate, the Cavs’ iron man was Jarrett Allen, with only five missed games; Allen has not played since Game 4 of their series against the Magic, as his rib injury continues to be bothersome.

At the very least, this has prepared the Cavs for the adversity that hit them in Game 4 of their series against the Celtics. Mitchell is once again dealing with a leg issue, and Allen continues to be out. And yet they mounted their best effort against the Celtics outside of their Game 2 win, with Garland stepping up and assuming first-option duties. Garland, in particular, was good in Game 4. He scored 30 points and dropped seven assists, which is not exactly easy to do against the Celtics’ perimeter defense duo of Jrue Holiday and Derrick White.

The Celtics also know that they absolutely cannot be complacent against the Cavs. Back on March 5, they faced a Cleveland team that was without Donovan Mitchell and Max Strus. It seemed like Boston had the win in the bag, as they fielded a full-strength lineup. Instead, Dean Wade went bonkers, dropping 20 points on 7-7 shooting in the final frame to lead the Cavs to a 105-104 win despite being down 16 to start the period.

There is always a potential for the Cavs’ role players to pop off. Wade recently got off the injured list in Game 4, and perhaps he could, once again, shoot them to a victory over the Celtics. There is also the threat of a Caris LeVert monster game; who could forget the time LeVert went into a prolonged flow state and put up 51 points for the Brooklyn Nets in TD Garden back on March 3, 2020 to lead them to an epic comeback from 17 down to start the fourth?

It’s good that the Celtics are remaining focused; the last thing they would want to do is lose the mental battle. They still have to go out there, play their game, and snuff out any ideas of a comeback from the Cavs as they look to close out the series at home in less than 48 hours.

Jayson Tatum steps up for the Celtics

Fan perception towards Jayson Tatum continues to be divisive. Celtics fans know how elite of a player Tatum is, but some could not help but feel like Tatum is always leaving something on the table. Following the Celtics’ blowout Game 2 loss against the Cavs, Tatum was once again put under a critical lens; teams take after the identity of their best player, and for the Celtics, it seems like they settle for difficult shots and put up subpar effort on defense when they fall into a rut, which Tatum is often guilty of when adversity hits.

But in Game 4, Tatum was all business. He put up 33 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists, and he was very helpful on defense as the Celtics now stand within one win away from a return trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, and what would be their third consecutive.