Un­der­manned Celtics ready for Game 4.

Can the un­der­manned Celtics pull off the im­pos­si­ble again?

Metro USA (Boston) - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES TOSCANO @Jim­my_Toscano sports@metro.us

When the Celtics dropped Game 1 to the Cleve­land Cava­liers, there was some dis­ap­point­ment, but not much sur­prise. When they had their doors blown off in a his­tor­i­cally lop­sided Game 2? Yeah, that was bad.

Em­bar­rass­ing is prob­a­bly the word that comes to mind when think­ing back on that Game 2 loss (at home, too). The LeBron James-led Cavs were on a com­pletely dif­fer­ent level than the Celts, and all ev­ery­body could do was watch and hope the Cavs didn’t win by 50.

They ended up win­ning by 44.

By all ac­counts, the se­ries had ended af­ter two games. Did the bat­tered and beaten Celtics re­ally still have to board a plane to Cleve­land for two more games? And if they did, just how much worse could things pos­si­bly get?

They did board – all but one, any­ways. Celtics lead­ing scorer Isa­iah Thomas was ruled out for the re­main­der of the post­sea­son the day af­ter Game 2’s drub­bing af­ter re-ag­gra­vat­ing a hip in­jury sus­tained in March.

The barely-breath­ing Celtics went in to Game 3 as 16.5-point underdogs and trailed by 21 points half­way through the third quar­ter. But some­how, some­way, Bos­ton clawed its way back as James could not get any­thing go­ing. They took a fourthquar­ter lead and Avery Bradley’s 3-pointer at the buzzer de­liv­ered Bos­ton the most im­prob­a­ble of wins, 111-108.

In fact, the 16.5-point un­der­dog win is the big­gest up­set since 1998, ac­cord­ing to ESPN.

How on earth did the C’s pull this off af­ter vir­tu­ally ev­ery­body left them for dead, and can they some­how do it again Tues­day (8:30 p.m., TNT)?

1 Smart the starter?

Mar­cus Smart is prob­a­bly the most po­lar­iz­ing player on the Celtics in re­cent mem­ory, per­haps even more so than Ra­jon Rondo. Ev­ery­body knows the scout­ing re­port on Smart: plays in-your-face de­fense, hus­tles to ev­ery­thing, emo­tional as heck, in­con­sis­tent of­fen­sively. But Smart flipped that last scout­ing re­port on its head in Game 3, scor­ing a ca­reer-high 27 points in­clud­ing seven 3-point­ers. Is this guy a le­git­i­mate start­ing point guard? One game won’t prove it, but Smart showed the abil­ity to lock in on both ends in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment and lead his team in a must­win game.

2 Bron Bron re­venge?

All it took was one bad game for the LeBron James haters to come out of hid­ing and puff out their chest: “You’d never see Michael Jor­dan put up those num­bers in a game that big!”

And those talk­ing heads have ev­ery right to crit­i­cize James af­ter his 11-point, six-turnover Game 3 – one of the worst play­off per­for­mances of his ca­reer. The ques­tion now is, how will James re­spond in Game 4? The other ques­tion is, does he even need to? The fact that the Cavs scored 108 points and James only scored 11 of them should con­cern the Celtics. Scor­ing wasn’t an is­sue for the Cavs even with a cold James; it was get­ting stops.

3 Is there hope?

So was the Celtics’ Game 3 win just fools’ gold, set­ting ev­ery­body up for a painful Game 5 in Bos­ton? Or is there re­ally some­thing to Bos­ton’s big win? Re­gard­less, you have to give the Celtics this: Just when ev­ery­body had thought they had com­pletely given up, the play­ers ral­lied around one an­other and, at the very least, avoided a sweep. It was Jonas Jere­bko who came out of nowhere this time. Who’s next? Is there any­thing left in Brad Stevens’ bag of tricks? Lis­ten­ing to a fired up Al Hor­ford af­ter the win, it’s easy to see that this team does be­lieve in one an­other. It took three games, but the C’s fi­nally punched the Cavs back. 3

Al Hor­ford gets some ball and some arm as Tris­tan Thomp­son goes up for a shot in Game 3. GETTY IM­AGES

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