Monday’s NBA playoff takeaways: Celtics fight off Cavaliers to take 3-1 series lead

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The Boston Celtics were able to hold off the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night, winning 109-102 to take a 3-1 series lead heading back to Boston. The Celtics were up double-digits at one point, but that lead dwindled as the game went down the stretch.

Jayson Tatum (33 points) and Jaylen Brown (27 points) combined for 60 points for Boston.

The Cavaliers showed resilience, keeping the game competitive without their best player in Donovan Mitchell, but the Celtics eventually outclassed Cleveland to earn the victory.

Celtics 109, Cavaliers 102

Series: Celtics leads 3-1

Game 5: Wednesday in Boston

Boston’s uncharacteristically sloppy offense helped keep the game tight

Over the first three games of the series, Boston dominated the minutes when Mitchell hit the bench. After he was ruled out shortly before Game 4, it was easy to wonder how the Cavaliers would produce enough offense to keep pace with the powerful Celtics.

By playing with a newfound freedom. And by crushing the Celtics in transition for much of the game.

Led by Max Strus, who drilled five 3-pointers, all in the first half, the Cavaliers looked to launch long balls at every opportunity. Sam Merrill, who hadn’t hit a shot all series, sank his first two 3-point attempts off the bench. Cleveland generated 25 3-point attempts as a team during the first half, which surely bothered Joe Mazzulla, who usually wants his team to shoot more 3-pointers than its opponent.

If the Cavaliers continue hunting 3-pointers for the rest of the series, the Celtics should focus on doing a better job finding them in transition.

They should also look to do a better job taking care of the ball. After entering Monday with the second-lowest turnover rate of any team left in the playoffs, they committed six during the first quarter and another four in the second. That led to 16 first-half points for Cleveland.

Boston’s uncharacteristically sloppy offense helped the Cavaliers make 11 3-point attempts in the first half.

When the Celtics tightened up their offense, their defense had far more success while holding the Cavaliers to four 3-point makes after halftime. Boston’s defense will need to be attentive at the 3-point arc over the rest of the series, though, if Cleveland continues to put such a premium on the long ball.

And the Celtics should stop milking the clock late in games, as they did while allowing Cleveland back in the game late in the fourth quarter. — Jay King, Celtics writer

No moral victory for the Cavaliers

Their absences should have been backbreakers, and, I guess, in the end they were.

But the Cavaliers put forth a more-than-admirable effort in Game 4 without their top TWO players.

Yes, that’s right, Mitchell and Jarrett Allen are the best they have – and neither played Monday night.

Mitchell, ruled out with a left calf strain that obviously puts his availability for Game 5 in doubt, is averaging 31.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in this series and has gone over 30 points in his last five games.

Allen has now missed seven consecutive games with a rib bruise – he may have set a record for games in which he’s been considered “questionable” to play – but in the first four games against Orlando he averaged 17 points and 13.8 boards.

There has been so much talk about the pressure the Celtics put on opponents. The weight of playing against Boston without Mitchell and Allen may have given the impression the Cavs were in for another blowout loss. Instead, it was a two-possession game with less than 90 seconds left. Strus had a cleeeeeeean look at a 3 with 1:25 left that, had it fallen, would’ve cut Cleveland’s deficit to two points.

This was the closest game the Celtics have been in, win or lose, the entire postseason.

Darius Garland’s 30 points all came after the first quarter. He’s had a very up and down playoffs, and had no choice but to let it rip without Mitchell. He’ll wish he could have back a few of the 11 3s he missed (against 4 makes), but it was heartening to watch him compete.

Strus was very good before he fouled out, scoring all 15 of his points on five 3s. The edge with which Cleveland played, albeit in a loss, is what he’s been looking for here since he joined the organization from the Miami Heat.

Caris LeVert was admirable in Mitchell’s place with 19 points. Evan Mobley continued his strong series with 19 points and nine boards.

Cleveland knew it needed to bomb 3s to have a chance, and that’s what happened. The Cavs launched 48 of them suckers. Too bad “only” 15 connected.

Because LeBron James was in the building Monday, I won’t rule out the Cavs coming back from the 3-1 deficit they now face. Because we’ve seen it happen. To be fair to history, let’s just say the chances of the Cavs’ season continuing past this series are bleak, and the fight and grit of the players available to play put in on Monday wasn’t enough to change that.

But it was admirable nonetheless. — Joe Vardon, Senior NBA writer

Monday’s schedule:

Required reading

(Photo: Nick Cammett / Getty Images)

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