CLEVELAND - They got off to a better start. They played with energy and matched the intensity of their opposition.
And they used their aggressive defense to spark their transition offense. They had their shot.
"We had more energy and I thought everybody was more into it, from our starting five to our bench," said reserve center P.J. Brown. "I felt like we had the game we wanted in the fourth quarter."
This time, the Celtics were finished by a flawed fourth quarter.
After faltering from the start in Game 3, the Celtics were thwarted down the stretch in last night's 88-77 setback to the Cavaliers in Game 4. The Celtics mustered just 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting in the final quarter.
"I think, defensively, at the end of the game we didn't get the stops and maybe there were two possessions and they got the offensive rebound and took the air out of us," said Ray Allen, who along with Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo each tallied 15 points. "Offensively, we didn't get anything up the last four or five minutes, where the game slipped away from us."
The Celtics are now left to rue the opportunities missed after squandering a 2-0 series lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals. The Cavaliers evened the series at 2-2 by pinning the Celtics with their fifth road loss in the playoffs.
The Celtics face a crucial situation when they host the Cavaliers in Game 5 tomorrow night at TD Banknorth Garden.
"It's huge," said Pierce, who wound up scoring 6 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter. "If you go down 3-2, then you have to win on the road and the road hasn't been too friendly. We have to take care of business at home and hopefully come back for Game 6 and get a win."
Brown, who scored 4 of 8 points in the fourth, pulled the Celtics within 76-73 when he knocked down a 15-footer from the perimeter.
The Celtics then resorted to what coach Doc Rivers referred to as "hero" shots and missed their next four attempts in a row before LeBron James, who led the Cavaliers with 21 points, 13 assists, and 6 rebounds, buried a huge trifecta to extend the Cavaliers lead to 79-73 with 3:17 to go.
"We have to play better under stress," Rivers said. "I call them 'hero' shots and I thought we took a lot of those instead of just stressing what we do."
Daniel Gibson answered a Pierce jumper with a 3-pointer to make it 82-75. The Celtics then came up empty on 3-point attempts by Pierce and Allen on their next two possessions. Taking advantage, James swooped in with an electrifying windmill dunk that gave the Cavaliers a 9-point lead with 1:45 left and energized the Quicken Loans Arena.
"On the dunk, I just wanted to be aggressive," James said. "I haven't had a play like that all series. I just wanted to be aggressive. There's not a lot of guys who can get up there on the jump."
It helped James purge the frustration of shooting 8 for 42 in the first two games of the series.
"There was a lot built up," James said. "I was missing shots that I normally make. I took it upon myself to continue to shoot. That just capped it off for me, to get up there and put an exclamation point on the game."
In Game 3, it was the start that did in the Celtics. In Game 4, it was the finish.
"We just got to put it together," said Brown. "Game 3, I felt like our defense wasn't there consistently. Game 4, I felt like our offense let us down. It's been flip-flopped. It's been wishy-washy. We just haven't had a consistent-level game on the road."
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.