Celtics pass first playoff clutch test, take 3-1 lead over Cavs

The Boston Celtics finally found themselves in their first crucial situation of the postseason on Monday night and passed the test.

Despite being able to cut a 15-point deficit to five in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston managed to hold a two-possession lead until the final buzzer of Game 4, earning a 109-102 victory at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse and thus gain a lead. 3-1 series advantage.

For the Celtics, it was the first game of their playoff run in which fewer than 10 points determined the final score, and it was their first win by fewer than 13 points. It was also the first time they found themselves in a clutch scenario (when the score is within five points during the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime) since a 101–100 win over the Sacramento Kings on April 5.

“It’s been a while since we had a tough, tough, back-and-forth battle game,” Jrue Holiday said. “So it felt good to just go out there and execute and know that we can execute on any type of play we play and get the win.”

Cleveland made things difficult for Boston despite the last-minute absence of Donovan Mitchell, who was ruled out before tip-off with a calf strain.

Darius Garland stepped up to fill his defense buddy’s scoring and play gaps with a 30-point, seven-assist effort. The Cavs also received a pair of 19-point performances from Caris LeVert and Evan Mobley, along with a 15-point, seven-rebound, and seven-assist night from Max Strus.

However, the C’s responded with some masterful individual performances from their own. Jayson Tatum recorded his second consecutive 33-point performance to go along with 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals. Jaylen Brown added 27 points and eight rebounds. And Jrue Holiday scored 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

When it came to clutch time, that second group was better balanced than the first. Especially Brown and Tatum, who combined for nine of Boston’s 11 points in the final five minutes.

“Give Cleveland credit,” Brown said. “They came out with a lot of energy. They played fast, they played hard. They tried to speed us up, they tried to upset us. And I think it worked in the first half. In the second half we imposed ourselves a little better and took a little distance.”

Even though it’s easier on the heart to win big, Joe Mazzulla loves watching his team battle it out in these crunch-time scenarios.

“I think it’s good to be in those situations,” Boston’s head coach said. “It takes what it takes, so however we have to win the game, we have to do it, so it was good to have replays played in different ways.”

That includes defensive reps. Sure, the team hit some big shots late in the game, but they made some even bigger stops.

“We hung our hat on the defensive end tonight,” Tatum said. “We made timely shots and even the shots we didn’t necessarily make, some of those kickout threes, just good execution. Sometimes you don’t make shots, but how connected we were on defense – when we had to stop, we did.”

The fact that this gritty victory came on the road made it all the more impressive.

“It’s a tough environment, the crowd was great, but as a competitor it’s a lot of fun to be in that environment and win on the road,” said Tatum, whose Celtics came away with two wins in Cleveland, where the Cavs had won . lost 4-0 in the previous round. “Now it’s time to go back and play well for our fans, give them something to cheer for and try to get a win.”