James had yet another fantastic game with 44 points, and the Cleveland Cavaliers held off a second-half push to secure a 111-102 Game 4 victory to even the East Conference finals 2-2.
Earlier this series, James crossed the 1,000-point barrier in career playoff scoring against Boston, a reminder of just how many spring battles he has had against various generations of Celtics over the past decade.
Monday was his seventh career 40-point game against the Celtics and second of this series. It was also his 22nd playoff game with more than 30 points against Boston, second all time to Jerry West’s 25. Midway through the second quarter, a James jumper put him past one of Boston’s all-time adversaries, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, for the most made field goals in NBA playoff history.
Though the Cavs got some decent support around James — George Hill (13 points), Kyle Korver (14) and Tristan Thompson (13 points, 12 rebounds) all reprised their roles from the Game 3 blowout — it was still dicey at times in the second half.
The Celtics trailed for the entire game but had so many blown opportunities and narrow misses. They missed numerous layups and even a handful of dunks. In the fourth quarter, they repeatedly had open looks at 3-pointers that could’ve cut the lead, but they ended up missing nine in a row.
James made 11 baskets in the paint, most of them driving to his right, as is his preference. The Celtics finally started rotating defenders to get in the way, but the lead, which grew to as much as 19 points, was already too large.
The Cavs’ offensive flow slowed in the second half, as the Celtics made adjustments to take away some of the Cavs’ pet plays, including some of the sets aimed at getting Korver open. In all, Cleveland made just eight 3-pointers, which typically dooms them.
The Cavs ended up turning the ball over 19 times — seven of them attached to James — that allowed the Celtics to peel away at the lead.
But for the third straight game, the Celtics’ offense was off, as they managed just 41 percent shooting. They had all five starters in double figures, led by Jaylen Brown’s 25 points, but 19 missed shots in the paint doomed them.