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Celtics’ offbeat offense scrapes by Cavs in Game 4: ‘Whatever it takes’

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers

The Boston Celtics did not look like the Boston Celtics in Game 4.

The same Boston Celtics who led the league in three-pointers this season were held to just 32 attempts. The same Boston Celtics who finished eighth in the league in shots per game took only 78.

Not only did the Donovan Mitchell-less Cleveland Cavaliers completely alter the Celtics’ offensive approach, but they simultaneously shifted their own. Cleveland chucked up 48 threes—the most in the playoffs and tied for the third-most all year. They also took 94 total shots, their most in a postseason game.

But the Celtics still won.

Heading into Game 4, there were only 15 games this season, regular season and playoffs included, in which the Celtics made 38 shots or fewer. They were 6-9 in those games, accounting for half of their total losses across the year.

They made 38 on Monday night and gritted out a win.

“It’s all about, the more you want to be the harder playing team,” said Jayson Tatum. “They test you. They’re well-coached, they play extremely hard, the guys that come off the bench, they compete. You want to match that with physicality and pace—finding the right match-ups with whoever you’re trying to attack or put into action. Just being aware of what we’re trying to do.”

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics have won with the three-ball all year. Drive-and-kicks reign supreme within Boston’s offensive playstyle, yet they found themselves constantly challenged by the Cavs behind the arc.

Derrick White, who lit Cleveland up in Game 1, was held to just six shot attempts. He’s averaging 8.4 three-point attempts this postseason but only got four up in Game 4.

Forced into a new style of offense, the Celtics aren’t focused on what has worked in the past or what the numbers bear out. They want to play the way the game allows them to.

“It’s never been really about the three-point shot,” said Joe Mazzulla. “It’s been about taking the best shot. And regardless of that, we’ve been fighting to take really good shots. And that’s the most important thing.”

That said, it took the Celtics some time to adjust. An 8-2 run by the Cavs to start the game led to a frustrated Mazzulla timeout after Max Strus buried a three in transition. From there, Boston went on a 10-0 run of their own. The same trend occurred in the third: A Cavs 8-2 run met…

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