After the Cavaliers’ 30-point drubbing of the Celtics in Game 3, pulling within 2-1 in this best-of-seven series, the momentum has shifted a bit in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
Cleveland, finally, looked like it belonged in its first home game and hopes to knot it up at 2-all before heading back to Boston. The Celtics, meanwhile, will likely implement some changes in Game 4 to avoid the same mistakes and shortcomings they showed in Game 3.
So here are a few things to watch for in Game 4, which tips off a 8:30 p.m. Monday:
How will Jaylen Brown respond after the Cavs slowed him down in Game 3?
The second-year player scored a combined 46 points through Games 1 and 2, pouring in 27 points and making 10 of 15 shots in the opening period while shooting 52.9 percent overall. In Game 3, however, the Cavaliers zeroed in on Brown from the start, holding him scoreless in the first quarter before he ultimately finished with 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 3 turnovers while shooting 37.5 percent.
“I just don’t think they let me catch the ball,’’ Brown said after Game 3. “I think they was denying me. They didn’t want me to get the ball, and when I did get it, it wasn’t in the position I was comfortable in. [The early foul trouble] was key, it took me out of rhythm. I expected it to be like that. They’re at home, that’s how it goes typically. Trying to guard LeBron James, it’s hard to stop him without touching him.’’
Twenty-two times in the regular season Brown was held to 10 or fewer points. In subsequent contests, Brown averaged 16.4 points (his season average was 14.5 points per game) and shot 49.4 percent from the floor. Twice previously in these playoffs, Brown was held to 10 or fewer points (2 points in Game 7 against Milwaukee when he suffered a hamstring injury and played only 16 minutes, and eight points in Boston’s Game 4 loss to Philly). He came back in subsequent performances to score 13 and 24 points, respectively.
“Just continue to be aggressive, continue to do what I do,’’ Brown said Sunday. “Just continue to play basketball and be aggressive. They changed some coverages and I wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been and that’s on me. I talked to Brad [Stevens] about it, and he says, yeah, just keep doing what you’re doing, and everything will be fine.’’
Can Cleveland replicate its balanced offensive effort?
Six Cavaliers scored in double figures in Game 3 and the Cavs shot 48.7 percent, including 50 percent from 3-point range. In Games 1 and 2, Cleveland shot a combined 40.9 percent, making just 20.9 percent of its 3s with only three players not named LeBron James or Kevin Love reaching double figures. The Cavs dished out 23 assists in Game 3 — they had 18 each in Games 1 and 2 — with James racking up 12, including some pretty sweet ones.
Cleveland passed the ball 34 more times in Game 3 than in Game 2. George Hill and J.R. Smith showed up in Game 3, combining to score 24 points, up from their 3-point effort (all by Hill) in the second contest of this series.
Can Boston get its defensive communication straightened out?
Guard Marcus Smart flat out said after Game 3 that the Celtics couldn’t really hear each other on the defensive end of the floor.
“We weren’t talking [on defense] like we were in Games 1 and 2,’’ he said after the loss. “We could barely hear each other. They did what we did to them over the first two games.’’
Boston’s defensive attack in the first two contests forced switches on most screens and it was effective. But in Game 3, the Cavaliers sought out mismatches, and it worked.
Center Al Horford acknowledged his team’s defensive breakdowns – which he said did not occur in the first two contests – before indicating the Celtics will regroup and address it.
Which lineup will Stevens use to counter the Cavs, and can Marcus Morris up his effort on James?
As Gary Washburn writes, Boston could go big. Aron Baynes could be back in the starting lineup, replacing Marcus Morris, to help get Boston’s defense back on track and to counter the effect Tristan Thompson had on Game 3, allowing James to guard Brown while Thompson wiped out Horford. Even with a lineup change, Morris must turn in a defensive performance on James more in line with Game 1 than the subsequent two games, something he acknowledged on Sunday.
“Personally, I think I did a [expletive] job defensively with LeBron,’’ Morris said. “He was too comfortable when I was guarding him. I made myself very vulnerable on screens and wasn’t disciplined. We can’t have that in a game of this magnitude, and it showed. They did a great job of exposing that. Personally, I think I have to do better.’’
Game 4 details
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Series: Celtics lead, 2-1
Referees: Scott Foster, Bill Kennedy, Eric Lewis (alternate: David Guthrie)