Little things added up to a big victory
The teams talk about it like a series of bar fights rather than basketball games. The first punch, of course, is the most important.
In Game 3 Friday night, Cleveland smacked the smile off the Celtics’ faces, rushing them from the tip and leaving with a 29-point win. Yesterday in Game 4, the Celtics set the tone with their defense, but then sent a message by winning all the small battles.
The paint (50-40), the fast breaks (23-7), the offensive glass (9-4), and the second-chance points (13-0) were all Celtics territory in their 97-87 victory over the Cavaliers. Coach Doc Rivers said those are the kinds of battles they’ll have to continue to win.
“We told them that going into Game 1,’’ Rivers said. “Individually, Cleveland’s pretty good. We’re not going to win that match. But collectively, as a team, we have a shot. We have a chance. And that’s the way we have to think.
“They have so many individually talented players. Then, if we let them win the hustle game, too, come on. It’s tough for us to win that game. We have to get the deflections, the loose balls, take the charges, be the better rebounding team. It’s a must for us. When we do it, we have a shot. When we don’t do it, they become really good.’’
“We needed it,’’ said center Kendrick Perkins. “I thought we got every loose ball, contested every shot. We did all the things we needed to do on the hustle plays.’’
For all the X’s-and-O’s adjusting, Cleveland coach Mike Brown said the biggest shift was in the teams’ mind-sets to start the game.
“Boston beat us to the punch,’’ Brown said. “We talk about it all the time, the most aggressive team is going to win, and that’s probably both teams’ biggest adjustment, the aggression.
“Rasheed got a lot of play after Game 2,’’ said Rivers, “because he shot the ball well and he scored points, and I made the point of saying, ‘That looks good and that was great for us, but we’re going to win this series because Rasheed plays defense.’ And that’s what he did today.
“You look at his line and he was 0 for 3; he only had three rebounds. But he was deflecting, blocking shots, clogging the lane, fouling hard. That’s what we need from him, and it was great to see.’’
Kevin Garnett reached out to Wallace before the series, saying no matter what happened in the past, the team needed 10 points and 10 rebounds [a game] from him if they were going to beat the Cavs.
“I think just his energy and the fact that not only when he’s not scoring, but him doing some of the small things like talking, knowing it is going to [have to] be a valid effort from the team, not just individuals, to beat this team,’’ said Garnett.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.