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The Read & React: king’s quest

The King of the Fourth outdueled King James, but it was a total team effort that put the Celtics over the Cavaliers in one of their best signature wins of the season.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Punching back (Keith P. Smith): Last time out the Celtics were the punching bag. Tonight when things didn't go their way, they picked themselves up off the mat and fought back. Several calls didn't go the Celtics way, especially down the stretch, but they played through. And that is a sign of growth and being ready for what the playoffs will bring.

But tonight was about more than just that. One guy, more than any other, has shouldered most of the blame for the team's failure to be better this year: Al Horford. And tonight Horford stepped up big time. He just missed a triple-double with a line of nine points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Yet, some still still laugh and rip him for not getting that 10th point and locking up the triple-double. And they would missing the point entirely.

All year it has been "Why doesn't he rebound more?" "Why isn't he inside scoring more?" "Why isn't he tougher?" All of these questions are, to put it quite simply, stupid. To even ask them ignores everything that Horford does do well like handle the ball, pass the ball, push the ball on the break, shoot from the outside, set killer screens and defend at the rim and on pick and roll actions. He's also an incredible communicator on defense who sets the Celtics on most trips.

Those are the things the Celtics signed him for. Sure, they'd take a little more rebounding, but no one from the team has an issue with his effort in that respect. If you expect him to bang inside on both ends, that is on you. That isn't who he is and that isn't who Boston signed. At some point you need to move past the things a guy can't do and start appreciating him for all the things he can do. Otherwise, you're missing one heck of a player and one who really wants to be a Celtic.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Five tool player (Jeff Clark):

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

D-cisions, d-cisions (Bill Sy): Lost in all the clutch shots the Celtics made down the stretch was the lock down defense they played against the Cavaliers. They’re concerted effort earned them a 99.3 defensive rating for the night. This is a Cleveland offense that ranks third in the league and 110.9 points per game. Boston held them to 99 by keeping them relatively off the free throw line and holding them to 40.7% shooting from the floor.

And then there was the individual defense on LeBron. The tag team of Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown were fantastic flustering James by staying in front of him and keeping their hands active to force him to pick up his dribble. A lot of LeBron’s buckets came off of busted coverage off the ball or live loose balls.

What I found most interesting was how Stevens committed to switching everything on pick-and-rolls, even if that meant disadvantageous match-ups with smaller guards and slower bigs. Instead of hedging PnR’s and then having to scramble on rotation, Boston would just switch on defense and allow LeBron to go one-on-one.

But by my count, LeBron was only 3-for-8 when he took it to guys like Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, and Amir Johnson. I’ll take those percentages. The Celtics will willingly give up step back threes and contested lay-ups so they can stay home on the surrounding shooters.

But for what it’s worth, I actually thought this was the biggest defensive play of the game:

Isaiah Thomas, rim protector.