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2024 NBA playoffs – Keys to pivotal Game 4s in Celtics-Cavaliers and Thunder-Mavs

2024 NBA playoffs - Keys to pivotal Game 4s in Celtics-Cavaliers and Thunder-Mavs

After a pair of pivotal Game 4s took place in the conference semifinals Sunday, two more are on deck Monday night.

On Saturday, the Boston Celtics took control of their series with the Cleveland Cavaliers behind a pair of big performances from stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, earning a 106-93 victory to bounce back from a Game 2 loss. The Dallas Mavericks got a second straight lift from P.J. Washington, who scored 27 points and hit five 3-pointers to power Dallas to a 2-1 lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now, all four teams will once again square off Monday night, with the Celtics and Mavericks looking to move to the brink of advancing to the conference finals, and the Cavaliers and Thunder trying to even things up and turn both series into best-of-three affairs.

Here’s a look at how both series got here, and what will be the keys to watch for each team entering Game 4.

How the Celtics built a 2-1 lead

After their last pair of uneven performances at home in the playoffs, continuing a trend that’s carried over the past few postseasons, Boston put together an exemplary defensive performance in Game 3 to take back control of this series.

While Donovan Mitchell had another sensational game, going for 33 points and hitting seven 3-pointers, the rest of the Cavaliers combined to score 60 points and went 5-for-24 from 3-point range. Remove Evan Mobley‘s 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the equation, and the numbers get even bleaker: 43 points on 33% shooting.

There’s a lot of focus on Boston’s league-leading offense and the amount of 3-pointers the Celtics shoot, but at their best they also have a suffocating defense, with few weaknesses — especially in their starting lineup — that can wear down its opponent. In the two games in this series Boston has won, that’s been the formula: Let Mitchell get what he wants, and limit the rest of his teammates.

Key for Boston: Al Horford‘s energy

Although the Celtics won Game 3, there was one concerning trend — if not for this series, but as the playoffs continue: Horford looked tired.

It’s hard to blame him. Horford, three weeks shy of his 38th birthday and in his 17th NBA season, played 40 minutes in Game 3. He finished 1-for-7 from the field — including 0-for-6 from 3-point range — and struggled to defend…

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