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Jayson Tatum, Celtics survive short-handed Cavs in Game 4, take 3-1 series lead

Andrew Callahan, Boston Herald on

Published in Basketball

CLEVELAND — For these Celtics, there’s no place like the road.

The road Monday started smooth, paved with pregame injury luck. Then it turned rocky, littered with turnovers and obstructed by a wounded dog.

But by the end of the night, the road led the Celtics exactly where they want to be: back home with a chance to clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston held off the short-handed Cavaliers 109-102 in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup Monday to gain a 3-1 stranglehold on the series. Jayson Tatum played one of his best games of these playoffs, pocketing 33 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Jaylen Brown scored 27 points, including a dagger 3-pointer that lifted the C’s to an 8-point lead at 1:09 left.

Brown’s triple was the last of six field goals Boston made in the fourth quarter, a dry spell that allowed their 15-point lead shrink to as little as five down the stretch. The Celtics relied on their defense to keep them ahead of a limited Cleveland squad that scored just seven points over the last four and a half minutes without star guard Donovan Mitchell.

“Everybody talks about clutch offense, I thought our clutch defense was good,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said. “We got stops when we needed to. We had some 50-50 balls that we got to, and we executed our late-game defense.”

 

Boston remains unbeaten on the road this postseason and can end the series Wednesday night at TD Garden. Tip-off for Game 5 is set for 7 p.m.

Mitchell, a five-time All-Star, was ruled out with the calf strain he suffered late Saturday night in Game 3. He rode the bench alongside starting center Jarrett Allen, who has yet to appear in this series due to bruised ribs. Together, their absences made the Cavs a rare, double-digit home underdog, a billing they refuse to live up to most of the night.

Powered by a screaming, sold-out crowd, the Cavs staked an 8-2 lead within the first two minutes. That burst prompted Mazzulla to call a timeout that ultimately triggered a 19-2 Boston run later fueled by Tatum and Brown buckets. But Cleveland fought that fire with blazing 3-point shooting and stayed within single digits through the rest of the quarter.

As Tatum rested to start the second, a scoring burst from Jrue Holiday (16 points, 7 rebounds) pushed the Celtics’ lead to as many as 13. Once Tatum returned, Cavs forward Max Strus — perhaps peeved that Brown had grabbed his ankle from the floor earlier in the quarter — knocked down back-to-back 3s, pulling Cleveland back within one score midway through the quarter.

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