A lit­tle re­sis­tance

Cavs re­main hum­ble with chance to close out Celtics in Game 5

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY KYLE HIGHTOWER

It took 10 games and half­way through the third round of the NBA play­offs be­fore the Cleve­land Cava­liers fi­nally en­coun­tered their first true dose of re­sis­tance this post-sea­son.

Af­ter cruis­ing to a 2-0 Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals lead over Bos­ton, the Cavs were hum­bled at home in a Game 3 loss, and needed a 42-point night from Kyrie Irv­ing to bat­tle back from a 16-point hole and win Game 4.

The chat­ter about an NBA Fi­nals’ matchup of two teams with un­blem­ished play­off records is gone, but the chal­lenge from the Celtics has sharp­ened the fo­cus of the de­fend­ing champs. Cleve­land is ex­pect­ing an­other un­flinch­ing ef­fort tonight in Game 5 from a Celtics team that isn’t back­ing down de­spite fac­ing a 3-1 deficit in the se­ries.

“The close­out game is al­ways the hard­est.and Bos­ton is go­ing to make it even harder,” said LeBron James, who re­bounded from a play­off-low 11 points in Game 3 to score 34 in Game 4.

James had been say­ing that he felt like the Cavs needed to go through some ad­ver­sity af­ter a blis­ter­ing 10-0 start to the post-sea­son.

The way they re­sponded Tues­day night — par­tic­u­larly on the de­fen­sive end — is a good sign for their prospects of wrap­ping up their third straight Eastern Con­fer­ence crown on Thurs­day.

Bos­ton shot 47 per cent from the field and 35 per cent from the 3-point line in the first half of Game 4 on their way to build­ing as much as a 16-point lead.

While Irv­ing’s scor­ing ig­nited the Cavs’ come­back, it was

made pos­si­ble thanks to Cleve­land’s de­fen­sive ef­fort over the fi­nal 24 min­utes. Cleve­land lim­ited the Celtics to 41 per cent from the field and 29 per cent from beyond the arc.

“We have to go in with a bunker men­tal­ity that we had in Game 1 and Game 2, to go out and do what we do, but we have to de­fend,” James said. “We have to ex­e­cute of­fen­sively. We have to have low turnovers, and we have to try to make them miss be­cause some of those guys play a lot bet­ter at home. That’s just how the game be played.”

Ev­ery­one will have one eye on Irv­ing’s left an­kle. He rolled it late in the third quar­ter of Game 4 when he stepped on Terry Rozier’s foot. Irv­ing stayed on the floor and fin­ished the game, but with a day off be­tween

games there will be in­ter­est in how ten­der his an­kle is at tipoff.

If the Celtics were play­ing with house money head­ing into the se­ries, they are flush with it again as they re­turn to the Gar­den.

They’ve given them­selves a chance to erase the sting of their 44-point loss in Game 2. The Celtics are also guard­ing against end­ing their sea­son by hav­ing to watch the Cavs cel­e­brate a con­fer­ence ti­tle on their home floor.

Bos­ton lost All-Star Isa­iah Thomas for the re­main­der of the post-sea­son to a hip in­jury in Game 2, forc­ing coach Brad Stevens to shuf­fle his lineup and ro­ta­tions in Games 3 and 4.

In ad­di­tion, Jae Crow­der suf­fered a strained left thigh in the third quar­ter of Game 4 as well,

but re­turned to play the en­tire fourth quar­ter.

It’s an in­di­ca­tion that de­spite still be­ing in a dire 3-1 hole, the re­solve in­side Bos­ton’s locker room re­mains strong.

“We owe our fans a bet­ter per­for­mance, and we know that, and we’re go­ing to play hard,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “You’re go­ing to see a team play­ing hard, very hard, the en­tire game.”

It’s also why Cavs coach Ty­ronn Lue said that his team must keep all thoughts of be­ing on the cusp of a re­turn to the NBA Fi­nals at bay for now.

“You can’t (think about it). As much as you want to, it’s not over,” he said.

If noth­ing else, Lue said their re­cent taste of ad­ver­sity should help them re­main hum­ble head­ing into Game 5.

AP PHOTO

Cleve­land Cava­liers’ LeBron James (left) goes up for a shot against Bos­ton Celtics’ Jae Crow­der dur­ing Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals Tues­day in Cleve­land.

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