The NBA Silver Medal Series is now a best of three with the Cleveland Cavaliers winning game four of the Eastern Conference Finals 111-102 over Boston on Monday night.
The Celtics never recovered from an abysmal first quarter, though this was the rare NBA game in which the team losing in the second half didn’t quit, so that’s something.
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Whether or not that means coach Brad Stevens’ team found something to build on when the series goes back home to Boston for game five (and one has to assume game seven the way this series has gone so far) remains to be seen.
Tyronn Lue’s Cavaliers certainly seemed to find favorable matchups frequently Monday night.
LeBron James recognized there was no one to stop him once he got into the lane and attacked relentlessly, piling up 44 points on 17-for-28 shooting (60 percent) for Cleveland.
Meanwhile, J.R. Smith continues to be a pretty good bellwether for the Cavs. He scored nine points, and they won by that many. It’s not quite that simple, but it’s not all coincidence, either.
Smith was 2-for-16 with four points in two losses in Boston before going 6 for 17 in victories the last two games. After going 0 for 7 from 3-point range in Boston, he is 6-for-10 in Cleveland, and naturally he hit a pair from deep as the Cavs established control early in game four.
Tristan Thompson also showed up (13 points, 12 rebounds) while George Hill and Kyle Korver combined for 27 for Cleveland.
When all those things happen, these Cavs are going to be tough to beat.
(If one of them isn’t getting it done, they could always get more from Kevin Love than they did in game four, too. He finished with nine points and 11 rebounds but also had six turnovers and missed 3 of 4 treys.)
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Boston still would have had a pretty decent shot if the Celtics wouldn’t have had about three killer lapses, so maybe that’s the under-the-radar takeaway from this game: If the Celtics are on, Cleveland has to play at its best or beyond to win.
Of course the onus is still on Boston to actually be at its best for that to matter.
Then again the ultimate lesson might be the Celtics can’t stop Cleveland now that some of the matchups have shaken out, which tends to happen in a series as it drags on…
As mentioned Monday, Reds pitching was even worse than usual last week as they dropped five of seven games to remain at the bottom of the National League.
» SPORTS YESTERDAY: Reds pitching regresses
David Jablonski broke down the numbers in greater detail, and they reveal a couple of things:
Tyler Mahle might not have killer stuff, but he probably has the best idea how to use it at thi spoint. The rookie competes and has the best ERA among the four guys who have gotten the majority of the starts.
Luis Castillo and Sal Romano have both been up and down with Castillo better lately following a rough beginning and Romano getting roughed up twice in the past week after looking better in April.
Homer Bailey and Matt Harvey are both top 10 picks and enigmas — Harvey the good kind and Bailey the bad.
Obviously we haven’t seen enough of Harvey to know what to make of him. He may not be around long enough to get to know well, either.
I thought it was interesting over the weekend that Bailey and Hunter Greene had similar things to say after getting knocked around in Cincinnati and Dayton, respectively.
"I went back and watched it. It's a little frustrating, because there were some good pitches there that they did a good job hitting," Bailey said. "That's kind of tough sometimes. Man, sometimes it's just the way it goes. That's a pretty good offense over there, and they did a great job. I thought Tucker did a really good job of calling pitches. Sometimes it just doesn't go the way you want it to.”
And then in the Gem City:
“[My fastball] felt good tonight. That team was ready to hit some fastballs. It’s just how it is. I’ve got to learn from it and just keep competing,” said Greene, who is 0-3 with a 10.06 ERA this season.
Of course it must be said that while Bailey and Greene are both Reds first-round picks who throw with their right hands, that might be about all they have in common anymore.
One is in his early 30s while the other is just 18, so it makes a lot more sense the latter is still trying to figure things out.
Greene did get a little more technical, mentioning for not the first time that getting a better angle on his delivery could make his fastball more effective, so for the youngster reps really might be the most important thing.
After multiple arm surgeries, Bailey doesn’t have the stuff he once did, but it’s never quite clear how much he has learned about the art of pitching over all these years.
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In Dayton for a rehab assignment last year, he said his plan was generally to throw the heck out of the ball (I cleaned that up a bit) and hope the batters make outs, after all.
Meanwhile, Greene showed a willingness to go to his secondary pitches right away in his first Dragons start.
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Despite throwing 100 miles per hour, the young Californian has learned in little time the necessity to do more than out-talent the opposition, even in Single-A.
I get the impression Greene is trying to take a fairly advanced approach even at this extremely early stage of his pro career, so that’s kind of interesting in and of itself, too.