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Should You Back The Cavaliers or Celtics in Game 4?
Can the Celtics keep Game 4 close?
By Liam Davis
Cleveland Cavaliers (-15) vs. Boston Celtics (+15)
LeBron James turned in a dud for Game 3, shooting 4-of-13 from the field overall, and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost. Big surprise.
Only, it was a big surprise. This wasn't your typical "Oh, LeBron is having an off night, so the Cavaliers are done" situation. The Boston Celtics trailed by as many as 21 points. They were cooked.
Then, as the second half wore on, the Cavaliers couldn't buy a basket. They faced an array of different defensive schemes, and it rattled them. They whiffed on a few wide-open opportunities, but for the most part, the Celtics were responsible for the Cavaliers' struggles. They trapped LeBron and crowded opposing shooters. And it was all working.
Of course, we have to keep things in perspective. That the Celtics were down 21 points at all is a huge red flag. And they aren't suddenly better than Isaiah Thomas, who is done for the year with a hip injury, just because they beat the Cavaliers that one time without him.
To the contrary, the Celtics are still bad in general without him. They're getting torched by 9.5 points per 100 possessions for this series when he's not in the game, according to NBA.com. Indeed, they're even worse with him in the lineup, but the point is that his absence doesn't suddenly unlock something within the Celtics that he was forcing beneath surface.
Sure, they will absolutely be a better defensive squad. But they've just lost their most important offensive safety net. They won't have the established scorer necessary to end offensive droughts when things go sideways. That was Thomas' job.
Frankly, it's also concerning the Celtics needed seven threes from Marcus Smart to win Game 3, mostly because he isn't matching that volume in Game 4. The Cavaliers will continue to let him fire away for that reason—because he's not a good shooter. A protracted hot streak doesn't change that. His success might only empower Cleveland more.
Still, it's tough to pick against the Celtics in this one. And it doesn't have anything to do with momentum. A 15-point spread is just astronomically high, especially with how well Boston was erased large-scale gaps during this series.
LeBron should absolutely be more aggressive in Game 4. The Celtics won't hesitate to try trapping him, but he shouldn't let them goad him into jumpers or premature passes as easily. He's too smart to make the same mistake in a second consecutive game.
Expect to see James attack the rim and earn a bunch of trips to the free-throw. And most definitely expect the Cavaliers to win. Boston doesn't hold a candle to them at full strength, let alone down Isaiah Thomas.
But also expect to see the Celtics remain within striking distance. Their three-point shooting, which showed signs of life in Game 4 is starting to percolate, and that's a perfect way for them to try slaying a giant.
The Pick: Boston Celtics (+15)
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