Celtics-Raptors review: C's rally in fourth

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Celtics-Raptors review: C's rally in fourth

TORONTO For most of Wednesday's game against Toronto, the Raptors were the better team.
They played with more energy, more speed, more effort.
And then the fourth quarter rolled around, and the Boston Celtics?
They just started to roll all over the Raptors as the C's rallied for a 99-95 win after going into the fourth quarter looking up at a double-digit deficit.
"We didn't play our best game tonight," said Celtics guard Jason Terry.
And more often than not, that spells D-E-F-E-A-T for the C's (25-23), winners of five in a row.
"It shows that you're very resilient as a group, and when things aren't going good, you can still dig deeper and find a way to get it done," Terry said.
Although the Celtics were relatively close to the Raptors most of the game, Doc Rivers did not like what he was seeing from his club.
"I just didn't think we played with a lot of speed and a lot of force," Rivers said. "Give them credit. Some of it was them, too."
"This was a good win for us," he added. "We didn't have it at stages and we just kind of kept looking for the right lineup, the right group."
Rivers finally stumbled upon the right combination in the fourth, a group that was led by Leandro Barbosa who scored 12 of his 14 points off the C's bench in the fourth quarter.
"Great lift" was how Avery Bradley described Barbosa's fourth quarter scoring binge.
"LB played very good today," Bradley said. "It just shows no matter who Doc puts on the floor, everybody is always prepared and ready to give their all every time they're put on the floor, no matter what position. We just go out there and compete."
And lately, win. Boston (25-23) has now strung together five straight wins heading into the always-intense battle with Cross-coast rival, the Los Angeles Lakers.
But before all the attention shifts towards the Lakers, here's a recap of the keys outlined prior to Boston's win over Toronto, and how those factors contributed to the game's outcome.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics will be challenged to keep this from becoming a track meet in high tops. Boston wants to get out and run, but so do the more athletic Raptors. Keeping the game in the low-to-mid 90s would be in Boston's best interest.
WHAT WE SAW: The game's tempo was indeed to the Celtics' liking, even if their play for the most part left a lot to be desired. A strong fourth quarter at both ends of the floor was just enough to squeak out the victory for the C's.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Kyle Lowry: Bradley's defense in many ways is predicated on him being physical with opponents, a tough task against Lowry who has Bradley by (at least) 25 pounds. Look for Bradley to pick his spots more than usual when it comes to pressuring Lowry.
WHAT WE SAW: Bradley had a solid game offensively (11 points), but Lowry proved why the Raptors were so willing to trade away Jose Calderon and hand over the offense to Lowry. He finished with a near triple-double of 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in addition to four steals.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Amir Johnson is a high-energy player, the kind that in the past has caused problems for the Celtics. As a starter for Toronto, he's averaging 14.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and has had double digit rebounds in three of their last five games.
WHAT WE SAW: He continues to produce as a starter, tallying 16 points and 12 rebounds on Wednesday. But like the rest of the Raptors big men, his inability to limit Kevin Garnett in the post and from the perimeter, proved to be the difference in the game.

STAT TO TRACK: Defensive rebounds are always important, but they have been especially valuable to these two teams. During its four game winning streak, the Celtics have ranked 8th in the NBA in defensive rebounds (32.8) per game. As for the Raptors, they are 11-4 this season when they win the defensive boards battle.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston continues to be one of the league's better defensive rebounding clubs during their winning streak, grabbing 35 defensive boards compared to 31 for the Raptors. The Celtics' work on the defensive boards really paid off in the fourth. It allowed them to get out in transition quicker, which led to seven of Boston's 10 fast-break points for the game. And while Toronto had 18 fast-break points on Wednesday, only two came in the decisive fourth quarter.

Celtics-Cavs Game 4 preview: C's expect an aggressive LeBron

Celtics-Cavs Game 4 preview: C's expect an aggressive LeBron

CLEVELAND -- Marcus Smart made shots, Jonas Jerebko (10 points) outscored the entire Cleveland second unit by himself, and Kevin Love’s hot hand in the first half cooled off considerably in the second.

It was on so many levels the perfect storm for the Boston Celtics in Game 3 which ended with Avery Bradley getting a friendly bounce or two – OK, it was four bounces to be exact – that would be the difference in Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win, which cut Cleveland’s lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.

But that perfect storm is now a thing of the past, which is why the Celtics are battening down the hatches for Hurricane James – LeBron James – in Game 4.

James scored just 11 points in Game 3 on 4-for-13 shooting.

Certainly, Boston’s defense had a role in James’ struggles.

But after looking to be a facilitator at the start of the game, James never flipped the switch to become a terminator.

So, as his teammates struggled with their shots in the second half, James didn’t ratchet up his aggression level to get buckets and in doing so, was just what the Celtics needed to get a much-needed victory.

Had Boston lost Game 3, this series being over would have been a mere formality with no team in NBA history has ever rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to advance to the next round of play.

But the Celtics are very much alive and well with a chance to even up the series at 2-2 with a victory tonight.

If they are to somehow find a way to beat the Cavs on their home floor a second straight game, it’ll most likely come after fending off a strong surge from James.

This season, James has been an offensive power following games in which he has scored less than 20 points in a game.

In the following game after he scores less than 20 points, James has averaged 27.8 points.

And his record in those games during the regular season was 10-3.

“He’s going to be aggressive,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “LeBron James understands how to play the game and he understands what his team needs from him. He’s most likely going to be a lot more aggressive. It’s our job to make sure we defend him as best we can; take other guys out of the game.”

Like Tristan Thompson who had 18 points but only took four shots (he made 3) to get it, as most of his scoring came from the free throw line after getting fouled.

“He had 12 free throws or something like that? He’s playing well for them,” Bradley said. ‘We have to try and limit him to less rebounds. It’s going to be hard. If we’re able to do that and guard the 3, I like our chances.”

Boston’s Al Horford anticipates seeing not just James but the entire Cavs roster try to be more aggressive at the start.

And that means as good as they did in Game 3, they’ll have to be even better tonight.

“On the defensive end, we feel there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement,” Horford told CSN. “We just have to come out and play.”

In Game 3, Boston fell behind by as many as 21 points but for the most part stayed within arm’s reach of the Cavaliers which was a major improvement over Games 1 and 2 in Boston.

And as the Celtics continued to climb back into Game 3, James’ lack of impact plays remained a mystery.

And while there are some who are quick to put Sunday’s loss on James, not surprisingly his coach sees things differently.

“We're all to blame,” said Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue on Monday. “We lost; it happens. For a guy who played great for five straight months, he's got to have a bad game sooner or later. He's human. He didn't shoot the ball well. It wasn't his ordinary game. But Kevin (Love) and Kyrie (Irving) had it going early and they played well, so it kind of got him out of rhythm a little bit in that first half. That's no excuse. Like I said, they played well, but we've just got to play better, be more physical.”

After reviewing the video from Game 3, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was once again impressed with James for the most part making the right basketball play most of the game.

“When you've got guys that are all on fire the way they are, the right basketball play is to find them,” Stevens said. “He just made it over and over.

Stevens added, “The guy is a tremendous basketball player. He makes the right play over and over, and he thinks the game, he sees the game. He's a really good defender. He can read situations. So, I thought he was pretty darned good. But like I said (following Game 3), I'm not going to be critical of the best player in the world.”

Indeed, Stevens has far more important things to worry about, like bracing his players for the impending storm known to all as LeBron James.