Celtics halt Rockets launch, 103-91

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Celtics halt Rockets launch, 103-91

BOSTON In a bit of role reversal, it was Boston's bench that set the tone in Friday's 103-91 win over Houston and the starters who came to the rescue in the fourth quarter.

After Houston cut Boston's lead to just 83-81 in the fourth, all but wiping out a comfortable lead built primarily on the strong play of the backups, the C's starters went on a 15-3 run to push the lead back to double digits, 98-84, with 3:06 to play.

The Celtics (19-17), winners of five in a row now, never allowed the Rockets to come close to being a serious threat for the remainder of the game.

Boston's second unit for the second time in as many games played a pivotal - and dare we say, dominant - role in helping the C's extend their season best winning streak to five in a row.

Jared Sullinger continues to show why a number of teams regret not selecting him in June's NBA draft, red flag or not.

His scoring and work around the basket has given the Celtics a dimension that no other player on this roster provides. He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double.

And Courtney Lee, who looked tentative and at times just bad at the start of the season, has been a defensive spark plug and a much more efficient scorer. Like Sullinger, he too had 14 points to go with three assists.

Throw in solid production from Jeff Green (9 points, two rebounds, two assists) and you have the kind of high-impact rotation off the bench that the C's envisioned at the start of the season.

"Our bench was huge," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "I mean, that's what stretched the game, that stretch in the first and through most of the second quarter when we left them out there. They're just playing free together, they're defending. You know, one of the big differences is they're defending now."
And to get it done defensively against the league's highest-scoring team, speaks volumes as to how far the Celtics have come since these two met on Dec. 14 and the Rockets easily won, 101-89.

"We weren't playing the way we wanted to," Bradley said of last month's loss in Houston. "We had flashes of playing the way we want to play every now and then."

But the questions about Boston's consistency - at least for now - can be laid to rest.

They have strung together enough victories of late doing it with defense, to make one believe that maybe just maybe, this team has at the very least turned the corner from their up-and-down, inconsistent ways to start the season.

And beating the red-hot Rockets does qualify as a quality victory despite them being the youngest team in the NBA.

They came into Friday's game having won 12 of their last 16 games. And against the Eastern Conference this season, Houston had a gaudy 14-2 record.

But none of that mattered on Friday, not with the Celtics playing the kind of defense from tip-off to the final horn that positioned them for yet another victory.

After scoring six of the game's first eight points, the Celtics were on the short end of a 15-2 run that had the look and feel of Houston's win over Boston last month.

But then Sullinger entered the game.

And things were never quite the same for either team.

Sullinger's hustle around the boards along with scoring positioned the C's to not just get back into the game but actually take over.
"He rebounded the ball well for them, he made a couple tough shots, a couple turn-arounds, he played well for them, but he has been," said Rockets head coach and former Celtics great Kevin McHale.

Although his play was dominant, but the play of Lee, Green and Jason Terry (3 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds) was also key.

While it's not unusual for a second unit to come in and rescue the starters when they struggle, that wasn't really the case on Friday.

Boston's first group didn't play poorly. Not with Paul Pierce scoring a team-high 23 points to go with six rebounds, or Kevin Garnett tallying 17 points and eight hard-earned rebounds.

It's just that Boston's second unit for the most of the night, was better.

And when you're building towards becoming a complete team, it's a good thing to have nights like that from time to time.
"They've been huge for us in this winning streak," Pierce said. "They've been not only able to come in and sustain a lead, they've been able to come in and push the lead."

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

CLEVELAND – There are 240 minutes of play in an NBA game, but Boston’s 112-99 Game 4 loss to Cleveland came down to seven (six minutes and 46 seconds to be precise).

That would be the amount of time left in the second quarter that LeBron James spent on the bench with four personal fouls (a first for him in the first half of an NBA playoff game ever) and Boston ahead by 10 points.

Boston could not have asked for a better scenario than that, especially considering how well they had played up to that point in the game and again, knowing that James wasn’t about to set foot back on the court until the third quarter.

But here’s the problem.

Boston’s 10-point lead when James left with four fouls.

Halftime rolled around and Boston’s lead was still at just 10 points.

Celtics players agreed that not finding a way to increase their lead with James out was among the more pivotal stretches of play in Game 4.

“They did a really good job of not letting it (the 10-point lead) get out of control while he was on the bench,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told CSNNE.com. “Every time we scored, they came back and scored.  They answered back with everything we answered.”

While many will point to that stretch as a time when the Celtics failed to make the necessary adjustments to increase their chances of winning, it wasn’t as if the Cavs are a one-man team.

“They still have two All-Stars out on the court,” said Boston’s head coach Brad Stevens, referring to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. “With the best player in the world they go to unreal, but they’re still a pretty darned good team when those guys are out there.”

Irving had a playoff career-high 42 points which included him scoring 12 of Cleveland’s 14 points in the final 6:46 of the second with James on the bench.

“He’s one of the best point guards in the NBA, and you know, you can tell he puts in a lot of work in his game, a lot of respect from myself, my teammates,” said Avery Bradley. “We have to do a better job at defending him as a unit, trying to make everything hard on him. He definitely got a great rhythm going tonight, and I felt like we had a chance to make it harder on him.”

James still finished with a strong stat line for the night – 34 points, six assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot.

As good as he was on the court, the Celtics have to be kicking themselves for not doing more with the time James on the bench in the second quarter which in hindsight, was among the bigger factors in them now returning home facing elimination as opposed to being tied at two games apiece in this series.

“What are you going to do?” said Cleveland’s Kevin Love. “You have to continue to fight through it. At halftime, we were down 10. We made some adjustments on the defensive end and we just fought; we needed to. They got everything out of us tonight in that second half, but we played more inspired basketball as well.”

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.