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.