Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, Al Horford

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Tomase: Celtics just got dominated in Cleveland, but here's why I love their chances anyway

May 22, 2018 - 1:44 am
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The Celtics came to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals and led for exactly one minute and 13 seconds.

Is it weird that I still believe they're going to win what has become a best-of-three Eastern Conference Finals?

On Monday in Game 4, the C's at least showed up . . . eventually. They trailed by 19 in the second quarter before sobering up, but despite periodically chopping the lead into single digits throughout the second half, they never drew closer than seven. In the end, Cleveland protected its home floor with a relatively secure 111-102 victory.

A switch flipped after halftime, however, that I suspect will carry into Game 5. After being dominated in every facet of Game 3, the C's responded with aggression, but it wasn't exactly laser guided. Jaylen Brown missed eight of his first nine shots and Jayson Tatum went 1-for-5.

The two eventually settled to lead the Celtics with 25 and 17 points, respectively, and therein lies the hope for Game 5.

The Celtics produced the shots they wanted for much of the game, shelving the awful pull-up jumpers that marred Game 3 for an assortment of drives, kicks, and open looks.

They happened to whiff like Jackie Bradley -- 15 missed layups and dunks that produced 15 points the other way for Cleveland, per ESPN Stats and Info -- but the key is getting those shots in the first place. Back on their raucous home floor, where they have yet to lose this postseason, they'll expect to convert those opportunities like they did while torching the Cavs in Games 1 and 2.

It would help if the C's took a collective deep breath before Game 5. On Monday, they beat themselves, especially at the start of the game. Brown and Tatum each missed dunks in the first quarter, when the Celtics went just 3-for-9 at the rim en route to a 15-point deficit.

"Just going too fast, too excited," Brown said. "Slow down. We missed a bunch of easy opportunities. There were some bad turnovers, things like that, but we still had every opportunity to get into the game and win. Take some better shots and we'll be in good shape."

They'll need, as best they can, to tackle the LeBron James problem, too. Perhaps literally. The Best Player in the World scored 44 points in the style of Pamplona, trampling the Celtics every time they switched Terry Rozier onto him like a tackling dummy.

In Games 1 and 2, the C's managed to scramble out of those mismatches before James could exploit them. But in Cleveland, the Cavs shifted their personnel. Instead of fanning three players on the opposite wing, they planted someone under the hoop. This left the Celtics susceptible to layups and dunks if a big man helped on James, but it otherwise stranded Rozier on an island, where he surrendered roughly six inches and 60 pounds.

"Hope he misses," Rozier said with a shrug when asked how he approached such matchups. "Big body. You've just got to keep him in front, hope he misses."

The Celtics are determined not to let Cleveland's 3-point shooters beat them, and they improved in that area on Monday. After shooting 17-for-34 in Game 3, the Cavs opened 6-for-10 before finishing a manageable 8-for-23. The C's will need to keep that number down in Boston.

"We were a little bit better than the other night," said head coach Brad Stevens, "but I don't know how we could be much worse."

So now the series shifts back to Boston. The Celtics know what awaits them. See if you can spot the pattern.

Stevens: "It's the best two out of three to go to the NBA Finals. Doesn't get better than that."

Brown: "Best of three to go to the NBA Finals. What more could you ask for?"

Tatum: "Best of three to go to the NBA Finals. It's pretty exciting."

Yup, it's best two-of-three to play for an improbable title. It's totally understandable if you don't love their chances following a meager showing in Cleveland, but look at Mr. Positive over here.

What can I say? The C's are coming home for Game 5, and I like their chances.

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