by Mark Deeks
The Western Conference Finals were done and dusted in about 45 minutes with a Golden State Warriors 4-0 series win, and the Eastern Conference might not be far behind them.
For a time it looked like things could be different. After their tremendous upset win in game three, the Boston Celtics built up a double digit lead in the first half of game four, before somewhat inevitably squandering it, losing 112-99 and going down 3-1 in the series.
Celtics Missed Isaiah Thomas When IT Counted
Still without Isaiah Thomas, who will miss the remainder of the playoffs, the Celtics ran out of pieces against a Cavaliers team that rebuffed their own implosion in game three with a much stronger performance. This was especially true of LeBron James, who overcame four first half fouls to finish with 34 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists.
With Thomas out, the Celtics need all hands on deck if they are to win again, but might not have them available. The three forward unit of Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and Amir Johnson are all listed as day-to-day; while Johnson was not likely to play due to match-ups anyway.
Will Wounded Celtics Play Game 5?
Brown (officially “questionable”, meaning a 50% chance of playing) would provide some athletic defensive minutes on the wing, and Crowder (“probable”, meaning a 75% chance) is a key piece on both ends. Crowder and Brown played a combined 60 minutes in game four. Both played well, but may have aggravated their injuries in the process. On the other side, apart from fifteenth man Walter Tavares being out for the remainder of the season, the Cavaliers are at full strength.
Cavs Reliant on Big Three
The Cavaliers took 74 shots in game four, and 62 of those came from their self-styled Big Three. LeBron James shot 15-27, Kevin Love shot 6-13 including three three-pointers, and Kyrie Irving changed the game with his 15-22 performance for 42 points.
As always, it is hard to find ‘steals’ from a fantasy perspective amongst the Cavaliers’ team. Tristan Thompson had a comparatively quiet seven point, seven rebound outing – in his defense, there were incredibly few offensive rebounding opportunities to grab – while J.R. Smith had 5 points and 3 assists in 26 minutes, and Kyle Korver went shotless in 20 of his own. The Big Three are very expensive from a fantasy point of view, yet with only one game on the slate, you will be picking at least one and perhaps two of them for your team tonight. And given that Marcus Smart was not able to slow down Kyrie any in the last game, maybe he is the one to go for right here.
Which Marcus Smart Will We See?
Speaking of Smart, he followed up his amazing 27 point night in game three (including 7-10 three-point shooting) with a 1-9 shooting, 8 point, 6 assist, 40 minute night. Smart was never going to do what he did in game three on a nightly basis, because if he could, he would not be a defensive specialist sixth man.
Inconsistency has been a hall mark of his three year NBA career thus far; he is simply not talented enough of a shot maker to be consistent in that regard. Nevertheless, Smart – who is almost always good for some points, some assists, and some rebounds, albeit to very varying degrees – is still something of a bargain in tonight’s game, if for no other reason than his playing time is almost guaranteed barring foul trouble to be in the 35-40 minute range.
Celtics New Look Power Forwards Played Well In Game 4
Having swapped Amir Johnson and Gerald Green from starters to DNP-CD receivers at the position regularly throughout the playoffs thus far, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens made a new decision about his power forward spot. Backup centre Kelly Olynyk got the starter there, while veteran backup Jonas Jerebko, fresh off of an extremely effective 13 minutes in game three, backed him up.
Both of the duo performed well. Olynyk had 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks in 26 minutes, while Jerebko had 9 points, 5 rebounds and a steal in 21 minutes behind him. As one of the cheapest players available today (and certainly the only player in his price range that will actually play minutes worth a damn), Jerebko is a very good candidate for being a steal of a pick, while Olynyk’s regular inconsistency is going to be slightly offset by his minutes increase as a starter.
Avery Bradley’s Shooting Has Let Celtics Down In Series
Called upon to take on a bigger share of the scoring load in the absence of Thomas, Avery Bradley has struggled with his efficiency, in large part because the Cavaliers knew he would have to do exactly that and have planned accordingly. Bradley followed an 8-27 shooting night in game three with a 7-19 shooting night in game four, an inconsistent pair of games not helped in coming after a 6-17 shooting performance in game two.
For all the (weird) talk of whether the Celtics are a better team without Thomas, it seems that in their current guise, Bradley absolutely is not. He needs the defence-drawing magnet that is Isaiah Thomas to open up the crevasses in the defence that he thrives in, rather than being able to regularly find them of his own off the dribble. Tonight, then, it is a plenty fair assumption to assume that Bradley will score some points, and take a lot of shots in the process. He just might only get a third of them to go in.