C’s Complete Sweep After Passing Another Crunch-Time Test

The Boston Celtics were tested in each of their first three games against the Brooklyn Nets, having to grind out wins in varying fashions. In Game 4 Monday night, Boston faced its biggest challenge yet, as it had to find a way to close out the series while their superstar could only look on from the bench.

After spending most of the fourth quarter clawing back from a 15-point deficit, Brooklyn caught a massive break: with 2:49 remaining, Jayson Tatum fouled out.

At that point, the Nets were only trailing by six. They also had momentum on their side and their biggest individual threat was now out of the picture.

Standing in Brooklyn’s way, however, was a team of unfazed individuals who were determined to rise up in their All-Star's absence and complete the task at hand. So, they buckled down and accomplished exactly what they did in the first three games: they found a way to grind out a 116-112 win at Barclays Center, sweeping their way into the second round.

“For us to do that, it shows who we are as a team,” head coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “We always talk about that: well rounded, balanced, not relying on one or two guys. Unfortunately, JT was out and Al (Horford) for most of the fourth quarter with foul trouble, but other guys stepped up and made huge plays.”

Everyone Celtics on the floor made huge plays, as they locked in after Kevin Durant cut the deficit to one point with 1:28 remaining. Jaylen Brown halted Brooklyn’s momentum with a driving finger-roll layup at the 1:02 mark, and over the next 58 seconds, Boston held Brooklyn without a field-goal. Al Horford also came up big with a put-back layup, and Marcus Smart hit three clutch free throws to seal the win.

Brown credited the strong close-out to “just being poised. We wanted to just control the game, keep our guys calm and make the right plays. Got sped up one time, but other than that, we played some pretty good basketball down the stretch. Got some good looks and we went and got stops on the other end. Just doing what we do: playing good team basketball."

Although Tatum was frustrated to have to watch helplessly from the sideline, he couldn’t have been more proud of the way his teammates finished off the series.

“That’s what we’re built for: that next-man-up mentality,” said Tatum, who still finished with a team-high 29 points in 36 minutes of action . “Regardless of what’s going on, we just figure it out. Guys came in the last couple of minutes making plays down the stretch, got stops when we needed and finished out the game.”

For a team that struggled to close out tight matchups earlier in the season, this series provided proof, game after game, that the Celtics have turned a corner in that regard. They closed out Brooklyn with a Tatum game-winner in the first game, fought back from a 17-point deficit in Game 2, held off a late Nets rally on the road in Game 3, and then found a way to eke out Game 4 while their best player was sitting on the bench.

“Those early games in the season got us ready for it,” said Smart, who tallied 20 points and a postseason career-high-tying 11 assists. “We still have work that we need to do, but we’re headed in the right direction. Every game is going to teach us something new about ourselves.”

What the Celtics learned in Game 4 was that they have enough willpower to finish off a superstar-laden team in crunch time, even when their own superstar isn’t in the game. The rest of the league learned something as well: no team will have an easy time beating this Celtics group in any game, let alone a best-of-seven series.

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