Celtics rally back from 26-point deficit to beat Heat, 98-88

Celtics rally back from 26-point deficit to beat Heat, 98-88

The Boston Celtics have played a it-ain’t-over-until-it’s-over brand of basketball all season, so why would the final game of the season be any different.

After trailing by as many as 26 points to the Miami Heat, the Celtics rallied for what seemed an improbable comeback that ended with a 98-88 Celtics win.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 21 points and six assists along with four rebounds while his backcourt mate, Avery Bradley, had 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting in addition to some solid defense on Heat all-star Dwyane Wade (17 points). Joe Johnson (19 points), Hassan Whiteside (19 points, nine rebounds) and Goran Dragic (18 points) also had big games for Heat who will be the No. 3 seed by virtue of winning the tie-breaker with fellow Southeast Division teams Atlanta and Charlotte.

The Celtics, also tied with Miami, Atlanta and Charlotte with a 48-34 record, will be the fifth seed and begin the playoffs at Atlanta this weekend.

The comeback began with a strong surge in the third quarter that saw Miami’s defense punctured at every turn by Boston speeding up the game.

And many of the good looks Miami got in the first half were no longer available in the second half as Boston’s perimeter defenders picked up the pressure and the Celtics’ big men played, well big.

Making it all that more impressive was it came on a night when the Celtics were celebrating championship teams from 1966, 1976 and 1986 who all played with their own brand of fight and grit – the ingredients on display Wednesday night by this most recent incarnation of Celtics.

Even with the victory, Boston still wasn’t able to secure home court.

They will begin the postseason this weekend at Atlanta.

And in a really cruel act by the Basketball gods, the Heat wind up with the No. 3 seed in the East by virtue of winning the tie-breaker with its fellow Southeast division foes Atlanta and Charlotte.

Had the Hawks won their season finale against Washington, the Celtics would have wound up as the fourth seed and with that, had home court advantage after having swept the season series with the Heat.

 

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

CLEVELAND – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Tuesday night’s Game 4 matchup between Boston and Cleveland which ended with the Cavs rallying for a 112-99 win. Boston now trails Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

 

STARS

Kyrie Irving

He was simply the best player on the floor by a mile in Game 4 as he tallied a career playoff-high 42 points with 21 coming in the pivotal third quarter.

LeBron James

Despite picking up four personal fouls in the first half – a first for him in a playoff game ever – James bounced back with a dominant performance. He finished with 34 points, 15 of which came in the decisive fourth quarter. He also had six assists and five rebounds.

 

STUDS

Jae Crowder

He continues to be one of the more consistent Celtics in this series. In Game 4, he had 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists.

Kevin Love

Most of Game 4, Kevin Love found ways to make life difficult for the Celtics. He ended up with a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds with five assists and two blocked shots.

Avery Bradley

Boston’s Game 3 hero couldn’t deliver like that in Game 4, but Bradley still managed to score a team-high 19 points to go with five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

 

DUDS

Boston’s sense of urgency

They had the Cavs in prime position to be beaten. But they didn’t play with the kind of effort and focus in the second half, that we saw through most of the first. And that 6:46 stretch in the second quarter when LeBron James was on the bench, and they didn’t increase their lead? That was a major, major factor in the game’s outcome.

Irving takes over in third quarter, Cavs beat Celtics in Game 4, 112-99

Irving takes over in third quarter, Cavs beat Celtics in Game 4, 112-99

CLEVELAND – They had them right where they wanted them.

LeBron James was in foul trouble.

Kyrie Irving had not yet heated up, and the lead hovered above double figures but seemed oh-so-close to creeping upwards of 20 points if the Celtics did a better job of making open shots in the first half.

Those missed shots, combined with a Kyrie Irving takeover in the third quarter, would prove to be part of the narrative for Game 4 – missed opportunities - as the Cavs rallied for a 112-99 Game 4 win.

Cleveland now leads the best-of-seven series 3-1, with a chance to eliminate the Celtics in Boston on Thursday and advance to the NBA Finals where a well-rested Golden State team will be awaiting them.

Irving led all scorers with a playoff career-high 42 points, 21 of which came in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Boston’s Avery Bradley had 19 points while Jae Crowder (18 points), Al Horford (16), and Kelly Olynyk (15) also finished with double figures scoring.

"He put the team on his back," said Tristan Thompson, regarding Irving's play. "He still has another gear."

Boston spent all of the fourth quarter playing from behind, failing to get that necessary made shot or defensive turnover or stop that they needed to slow down Cleveland’s growing momentum.

And with Irving making a slew of clutch baskets that put Cleveland in control, it was James’ turn to put the game away.

He did just that, finishing with 34 points which included 15 in the fourth quarter.

But for a good chunk of Tuesday’s Game 4 matchup, it looked as though the Celtics were coming back to Boston for Game 5 with the series tied up.

It was an odd game for sure, with nothing being any stranger than LeBron James being whistled for not one, not two, not three, but four personal fouls … in the first half.

The fourth came when he was whistled for an offensive foul against Terry Rozier with 6:46 to play and Boston ahead by 10 points.

With James on the bench, Cleveland managed to play Boston to a standstill as the half ended with the Celtics still leading by 10 points (57-47).

Cleveland slowly crept back in the game in the third, and eventually went ahead 73-72 following a pair of free throws by James with 3:15 to play in the quarter.

The Cavs were able to lead by as many as five points in the third quarter which ended with Cleveland ahead 87-80 as Irving scored the last 14 points for Cleveland which included a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that would be the final points scored in the quarter.

Cleveland’s strong finish to the third was a striking contrast to how the game began.

Boston got off to its best start in this series after a 3-pointer by Jae Crowder put the Celtics ahead 18-11.

The Celtics went ahead 22-13 after a pair of free throws by Jonas Jerebko and would eventually lead by as many as 16 points.

Meanwhile, James – the man Crowder was defending most of the time early on – had six points in the first quarter on 3-for-7 shooting.