CLEVELAND (AP) Even when it's supposed to be somewhat easy, the Boston Celtics have a weird way of making things hard.

On Monday night, they nearly stumbled against an overmatched Cleveland team.

Jayson Tatum scored 33 points with LeBron James watching from a courtside seat and the Celtics beat the severely short-handed Cavaliers 109-102 in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Jaylen Brown added 27 for the Celtics, who can close out Cleveland with a win in Game 5 on Wednesday night at home.

“It took us a little while to get going, and stop ball watching and play some basketball,” Brown said.

Game 6, if necessary, would be back at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Friday.

The Cavs got pushed to the brink of elimination with two top players in street clothes on the bench, as Donovan Mitchell (calf) and Jarrett Allen (ribs) sat out with injuries. Their status going forward is uncertain.

It was nothing new for a Cleveland team that dealt with injuries all season, but it was a big ask for the Cavs to try and survive without Mitchell, their All-Star guard who has carried the offensive load throughout the postseason, or Allen, their leading rebounder.

Still, the Cavs gave the top-seeded Celtics, who have shown a tendency to relax at the wrong time, all they could handle.

“They laid it all out there,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of his team. “They gave us everything that they had. They competed at a high level. They played the game properly. I’m proud of the guys, the way they went out and scrapped and competed and gave ourselves a chance.”

Tatum had his second straight strong performance, adding 11 rebounds and five assists. Jrue Holiday had 16 points for Boston, which improved to 4-0 away from home in the postseason.

“There's no better feeling than winning a playoff game on the road,” Tatum said. “Tough environment and the crowd was great. Now, it's time to go back to Boston and play well in front of our fans and give them something to cheer for.”

Darius Garland scored 30 and Evan Mobley and Caris LeVert 19 apiece for the Cavs, who stayed connected with the Celtics and only trailed by 10 going into the fourth.

Boston went up 15 on a jumper by Brown, but Cleveland responded with a 10-2 run as Garland and Dean Wade made 3-pointers.

The Cavs were still within 102-97 when Max Strus missed a 3-pointer that would have put immense pressure on the Celtics, but Brown buried a 3 - after colliding with official Tyler Ford - with 1:08 left to give Boston some breathing room.

Brown said Ford nearly cost the Celtics dearly by getting in his way.

“I thought he had an effect on the play,” Brown said. “You've got to be more aware. But the shot went in, so it's a non-story.”

The Cavs felt the discrepancy at the free-throw line - Boston attempted 24 free throws to Cleveland's seven -- was a major element.

"That's ridiculous,” Garland said. “It's tough to get just seven free throws. I know how many times I get hit and how many times my teammates get hit. It's tough.”

James, who played 11 seasons in two separate stints for Cleveland, was back in his former home arena - a visit certain to drive speculation about where he might play next.

The NBA's career scoring leader can opt out of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, and James has said he's not made any firm decisions.

The 39-year-old sat across from Boston's bench in between his wife, Savannah, and agent Rich Paul. James got a monstrous ovation from Cleveland's crowd when he was shown on the scoreboard during a timeout in the first quarter.

Despite dealing with a left knee injury for months, Mitchell averaged 29.6 points in the first 10 playoff games - scoring 50 in a Game 6 loss to Orlando.

He injured his calf in the waning moments of Cleveland's loss in Game 3 on Saturday and was added to the injury report as questionable on Sunday. Mitchell underwent round-the-clock treatment but didn't have enough time to heal.

The five-time All-Star didn't comment following the game, nodding politely on his way out of the locker room.

Allen sat out the seventh straight game with a painful injury the center sustained in the opening round.

With Holiday scoring seven straight points, the Celtics went ahead by 13 in the second quarter and appeared ready to run away from the Cavs.

But Cleveland stormed back as Strus, who has struggled with his outside shot throughout the playoffs, made consecutive 3-pointers in a 13-3 run that helped the Cavs close within 62-57 at halftime.

Boston's center Kristaps Porzingis missed his fifth straight game, but the Celtics were encouraged he was able to do some on-court work.



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