BOSTON – Kevin Love sprinted off the court, and civility soon followed.
Love headed straight to the locker room after injuring his shoulder in the first quarter – knocking him out for the rest of the game and probably longer – when Kelly Olynyk grabbed him. After building a big lead, the Cavaliers sent in enforcer Kendrick Perkins, who didn’t take long to start a scuffle with Celtics tough guy Jae Crowder. Then, J.R. Smith got ejected for whacking Crowder.
The game might have devolved further – with Perkins re-entering the game as soon as Olynyk first went to the scorers’ table in the second half – if the Celtics didn’t charge late to make it competitive. Finally – with Love battered and Smith likely facing suspension – the Cavaliers put away Boston, 101-93, Sunday to complete a first-round sweep.
Cleveland advances to face the Bulls or Bucks, but that doesn’t mean the hard feelings of this series will quickly be forgotten.
“I thought it was a bush-league play,” Love said. “… I have no doubt in my mind that he did it on purpose.”
Said Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas: “We could say the same thing. We’re all men here. We don’t need to cry and tell you guys.”
Evan Turner said J.R. Smith should be suspended. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving said Olynyk didn’t make a basketball play. Gerald Wallace said the Cavaliers sent in Perkins to even the physicality.
As the accusations fly, judge for yourself. Here are the incidents between:
Perkins and Crowder:
Blatt didn’t update Love’s status, but players with dislocated shoulders average missing 26 games. At least the Cavaliers did their part to maximize their time off before round two.
LeBron (27 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, three steals and a block) and Irving (24 points and 11 rebounds) stepped up in Game 4 without their third start, and Iman Shumpert (15 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals) and Timofey Mozgov (12 points and 11 rebounds and three blocks) made key contributions.
That was enough against Boston, but what about Chicago, which leads Milwaukee, 3-1?
Love’s potential absence looms large against the Bulls, who appear to be rounding into form. They’re tough and talented, but maybe Cleveland learned a lesson in toughness Sunday. To a certain degree, who cares about the moral high ground? The Cavaliers will get pushed again in these playoffs, and they want to prove they can and will respond in kind.
Asked whether this game diminished his respect for the Celtics, LeBron James gushed about Brad Stevens, how the coach prepared Boston. No mention of players from LeBron.
Undoubtedly, Stevens did an excellent job with these Celtics, even getting them into the playoffs following a chaotic regular season. But a talent deficit caught up to them.
Now, the question becomes: How well did Stevens and Boston prepare the Cavaliers?
They might be less talented without Love, but they should be tougher. Headed toward a closer-than-expected matchup with the Bulls, that could make all the difference.