CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers, already an underdog in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Celtics and trailing 2-1 in this best-of-seven showdown, were dealt a major blow after superstar Donovan Mitchell was officially ruled out of Monday’s game. Game 4 with a calf strain.

But instead of a routine win in Boston, this game was anything but, as the Cavaliers gamely hung in there for the vast majority of the 48 minutes before eventually falling 109-102 in front of a capacity crowd here at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

“That’s to be expected, isn’t it?” said Jayson Tatum, who led the Celtics on Monday with 33 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists in less than 44 minutes. “When the best player leaves, everyone has more freedom and more opportunities.

“Obviously we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s the playoffs, and they don’t want to go home. Give them credit… They played hard from start to finish and had big plays on both sides. They got it done.” Hard hitting, so it was a battle, and it was fun out there.”

Mitchell injured his calf late in the fourth quarter of Game 3, at the end of a stretch in which he played 22-plus consecutive minutes in the second half. After not being present at all during the team’s Monday morning photo session at its practice facility, he was officially ruled out about an hour before Monday night.

Mitchell’s absence came after another stellar performance, in which he scored 33 points to go over 25 for the sixth straight game in these playoffs, adding to the disappointment.

But then, Cleveland — with LeBron James sitting on the court across from Boston’s bench alongside his wife, Savannah, and his agent, Rich Paul — took an early 8-2 lead within the first two minutes of the game after a couple of quick threes. From Max Strus, part of Cleveland’s 6-for-7 start from behind the arc.

It was a start that made it clear the Cavaliers weren’t going to go down without a fight, even without their star player available to help.

“I mean they put everything out there,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “They gave us everything they had. They competed at a high level. They played the game right. I’m proud of the guys, the way they came out and competed and gave ourselves a chance.”

It was an opportunity, though, that ultimately proved fleeting, as a hot shooting start gave way to a Cavaliers team that shot 9-for-41 from beyond the arc over the remainder of the game. In the three losses in this series to Cleveland, Mitchell went 11-for-23 from 3-point range.

His teammates? Total 27-for-93 (29%), including 15-for-48 from 3-point range in Game 4.

“Same aggressive, same attitude, trying to get as many 3s as we can and then staying aggressive at the rim,” Darius Garland, who scored 30 points and had seven assists for Cleveland, said when asked about the plan. The offense will be in Game 5 whether Mitchell is available or not.

“When we go to the rim, they send up about three bodies, so the open kick is there. That’s how we get a lot of good looks at the 3-point line. And just try to work hard. Defensively, try to keep Jason and Jaylen (Brown) in a tough position.” And try to get Derrick White and Payton Pritchard off the line and keep being like us, man.

“We just have to fight through it all. It’s not going our way, but we just keep fighting. That’s what we always do.”

The Celtics will head into Game 5 looking to shut out a team at home for the second straight series after doing so in five games against Miami in the first round. They will also have a chance to overcome a season-long problem with their home playoff performance.

Over the past three seasons, Boston is 14-14 at home – the most games played (28) without a home win record over three postseason seasons in NBA history, per ESPN Stats & Research Information. On the other hand, the Celtics are now 18-7 on the road during that span.

“There’s nothing better than winning a playoff game on the road,” Brown said. “It feels like everyone is against you, you come in here with the guys in the locker room. It’s a tough environment, the crowd was great, but as a competitor, it’s really fun to be in an environment like that, and to win on the road.

“Now it’s time to come back and play well in front of our fans and give them something to cheer about and try to get the win.”


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