Four games to none. They call it a sweep. They show pictures of brooms. Jalen Rose carries his broom around on ABC’s studio show, like a little kid. The Celtics lost Game 4 of their first round playoff series with Cleveland on Sunday. This was the third straight game in which the margin of victory was eight points. That has to be some sort of record. Game 1 was closer to a blowout, with second-half Cavs leads stretching toward 20 points.
The Celtics shot miserably in Game 4. As Celtics fans knew coming into this series, the only reliable offensive scorer on this roster was tiny Isaiah Thomas. Too much pressure on Isaiah caused issues in Games 3 and 4, when the Cavs defense turned up the intensity (Iman Shumpert is a very good defender). Isaiah shot 4 of 17 overall, but made all 12 of his free-throws. Jared Sullinger’s best game of the series (21 pts, 11 reb) was a promising sight heading into the summer. The two did just enough to keep Boston within shouting distance in the second half.
The Celtics simply couldn’t hit a three (3 of 23) and missed too many free-throws (24 of 37, 65%) to compete.
But enough of the summary.
Here’s what will impact the rest of the Eastern Conference Playoffs:
- Kevin Love suffered a separated shoulder after getting entangled with Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk. Love may miss up to two weeks, which would likely be the first 4 or 5 games of the probably Cavs-Bulls second round series.
- After the Love injury occurred in the second quarter, Kendrick Perkins entered the game just before halftime with a vendetta on Jae Crowder. Perkins set a neck-jabbing pick on Crowder. It was clearly a “non-basketball play,” but the refs kept Perkins in the game by assessing a flagrant foul 1 (non-ejection).
- With 10:24 remaining in the third quarter, J.R. Smith stopped playing basketball. While battling for rebounding position with Jae Crowder, Smith smacked Crowder across the face with a fist. Crowder fell awkwardly, likely spraining his knee. He was clearly stunned by the blow.
- Smith should be suspended for multiple games.
Losing Kevin Love for even a few games, and Smith for any time leaves the Cavs seriously vulnerable for their likely second round series with Chicago. If Chicago wins on Monday night, they will advance to face Cleveland. Game 1 would probably take place on Saturday night. Derrick Rose has been noticeably better with 2 or more days of rest between games.
Celtics fans should enjoy watching Chicago increase the level of physicality while facing a Cavs team that will be relying on Perkins and/or a newly dusted-off Brendan Haywood, who has barely seen the court in recent months.
This season was nothing if not a rollercoaster for the Celtics. While some skeptics may regard this sweep (and end of season playoff run as a mistake for the organization, the team gained very real experience and confidence since mid-February. A season that could have easily been flushed down the toilet turned into a unifying identity-forming time over the last two months. Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas will certainly be crucial pieces in the continuing process of building these future Celtics.
The summer awaits. The playoffs showed the team’s three biggest weaknesses: three-point shooting, interior defense at the rim, and rebounding. We’ll have to wait and see how GM Danny Ainge addresses these weaknesses. For now, we saw the heart and the grit that these Celtics are capable of. It is most definitely something to build on.
The 2015 draft will bring three top 33 picks (#16, #28, #33). Because it’s never too early to obsess about the draft and “upside,” here’s what Sports Illustrated has to say about the Celtics picks: