Jrue Holiday and Celtics Pick Up Al Horford in Game 4 Before Key Block

CLEVELAND — Darius Garland attacked Al Horford twice when he came off the bench. The Cavaliers made it no secret they’d try to exploit Horford and Luke Kornet as part of their offensive game plan, shooting 53.6% against Kornet and 46.6% over Horford through the first three games. Horford returned to the floor with 5:00 remaining, the official start of crunch time, allowing a Garland floater before fouling him on the following play.

The Cavaliers trailed 100-93 as Garland slowly rose to his feet. Then, Joe Mazzulla challenged. The replay showed Horford blocked Garland. Evan Mobley dunked past Jrue Holiday and Caris LeVert drew a goaltending call on Horford to keep the pressure on, but they didn’t get a good look off from three again.

Max Strus tried, firing a Steph Curry range one that had no chance down 102-97, then fouled out. Jayson Tatum found Jaylen Brown for the dagger, and the Celtics escaped, 109-102. Holiday revealed after that the late twos they allowed, in part, became a hedge by Boston in a game where the Cavs took 48 threes to the Celtics’ 32. Holiday took over with 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block in the win, picking up Horford and Derrick White on difficult nights for the pair, while acknowledging the pressure they put on Al.

“They came out gunning and shooting threes and making it a challenge,” Holiday said. “Really just locking into that and making them play in the paint. Obviously, Strus can shoot, but him, Garland, all these guys, we want them to play in the paint and try to make tough twos and we gotta rebound out of it. With today’s game, twos are better than threes and when you’re on the defensive end, just to be able to have them shoot contested twos. We know that they can make contested threes too, but those contested twos where we’re closer to the basket and we can touch bodies and box out, we feel like that’s better for us.”

Horford scored the first Boston basket driving past Evan Mobley, matching his scoring total from Game 3, where he faced similar challenges through 39 minutes required with Kornet struggling and Kristaps Porziņģis entering his third week out. Tatum and Holiday committed early turnovers, which led Mazzulla to call the key to the game passing to the team in green. Brown nearly gave the ball away on back-to-back sets as Garland slapped away at the ball.

The Cavs’ point guard put the responsibility on himself to make up for Mitchell’s (calf) absence, where the Cavs lost by 31 prior to Monday, undermining a Cleveland team winning Mitchell’s time on the floor 275-258 in the series. After Monday’s loss, the Cavs fell to -26.9 per 100 possessions with Mitchell off the floor and +5.8 when he’s on the court in this series.

Garland struggled to pick Mitchell up while he mostly stood by the bench throughout the game and LeBron James watched opposite of him court side. Garland finished 0-for-3 in the first while Strus hit his first two threes and LeVert started 5-for-7 moving into the starting lineup for Mitchell. The Cavs led 8-2 early, before a pair of Holiday go-ahead passes to Brown and Tatum capped a 10-0 run that vaulted Boston ahead for the rest of the night.

“I think you just know (when you need to do more),” Holiday said. “I’m not sure there’s much of a formula to it. It’s more of a feel.”

Tatum remained aggressive too, converting another pair of layups and mid-rangers on his way to a 6-for-9 opening frame, playing all 12 minutes. He drew a foul on Strus, drawing a technical, the first of two tense moments that involved the short-lived former Celtic. Strus stood over Brown after the latter’s driving basket, prompting Brown to trip him. Officials called it a common, away from the play foul, with the Cavs falling behind by 13 points shortly before then. An incensed crowd booed and Mitchell stood with his arms up in street clothes near the bench. Brown received boos for the rest of the night, scoring 27 points through them on 9-for-15 shooting. Tatum added 33.

Cleveland’s other players answered, pulling within 51-50 on a 13-3 run. The Celtics did so with a pair of three-pass possessions to Luke Kornet underneath, who gave Boston nine badly-needed minutes to scale back Horford’s in the first half. The Cavs answered, 7-4, before Tatum hit a step-back three to go ahead 62-57 into halftime, carried in large part by his 23 points. The Cavs went back to the paint for Mobley and Okoro finishes to open the third, taking a brief lead before Brown and Tatum scored seven straight points inside.

White and Holiday added threes, but Horford’s struggles mounted into the second half, starting with a short-range miss and open three-point looks he squandered while the Cavs went at him in the drop and on switches. White gave him a pat on the chest after back-to-back misses from three late in the third while Payton Pritchard began holding off Cleveland’s rally at the free throw line. Holiday, who acknowledged the load they’ve placed on the veteran big man on Saturday, thought he held up well into the fourth on Monday.

“(Horford’s) doing great,” he said. “I know that when Garland gets by me, I rely on Al to be there to protect me and he’s done it every single game. Especially tonight, with the big block that they overturned (from a foul) … at that point, he was guarding (Garland) one-on-one, so Al does everything. He has to be the anchor defensively. When Mobley’s on him, he’s open for the three offensively and he has to knock those shots in, which he’s been doing pretty well. We put a lot on Al, but he’s built for it.”

Mazzulla also said Al’s fine after his 1-for-7 Game 3, but went on to scale back his minutes to 28 and ramped Kornet’s to nearly 20 in Game 4. Holiday found Kornet for a free throw make after Tatum poured in back-to-back mid range shots, then hit a three of his own to put Boston up by 13 early in the fourth. Kornet managed nine points, six rebounds and a block in an admirable showing, though the Cavs hunted threes over his drop, Garland and Dean Wade hitting them before Wade lined up for another one, wide open, two plays later trailing 98-91.

Wade missed and Cleveland only generated one three point attempt over the final 5:18 as Horford subbed back into the game. He finished +11 despite shooting 3-for-9 and 0-for-4 from three, Horford’s switching and presence in the paint still important as Boston awaits Porziņģis’ return. With Brown, Tatum and Holiday picking up the offensive load, the Celtics only needed one late stop from him and he got it — albeit needing the green light.

“We put a lot on Al. We put a lot on Al,” Holiday said on Saturday. “Protecting the paint. Anchoring us on the defensive end and knowing that he’s gonna get some shots, because they kind of leave him open … but Al is Al. He’s one of the most reliable players that I’ve ever played with, and you know that he’s always gonna come through for you.”

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

Recent Posts

4 takeaways from Jerod Mayo’s training camp opening press conference

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It feels like the first day of school down at Gillette Stadium…

19 mins ago

Patriots Top Breakout Candidates: Defense

Expectations for the Patriots' offense may be low, but the same can't be said about their defense.…

4 hours ago

2024 Patriots Depth Projection: Quarterbacks

Welcome back to 2024's Patriots Depth Projection. Over the last several weeks heading into training…

6 hours ago

Treatment Types to Help You Manage Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is the leading issue of distress among the aging population globally. Old injuries,…

22 hours ago

Patriots Top Breakout Candidates: Offense

With question marks surrounding the Patriots' offensive roster and coaching staff, expectations are low for…

1 day ago

Sam Hauser Agrees to Four-Year, $45 Million Extension with Celtics

Sam Hauser and the Celtics agreed to a four-year, $45 million fully guaranteed extension that carries…

2 days ago