CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers are bruised, not beaten or broken. Their playoff run ambles on amid uncertainty and a heaping dose of anxiety.
Cleveland completed a four-game sweep in Boston on Sunday, dispatching the scrappy Celtics 101-93 in a Game 4 that at times looked more MMA than NBA.
And now that they’ve advanced, the Cavaliers are not only waiting to see who they’ll play next but whether they’ll have starters Kevin Love or J.R. Smith for their second-round series.
“There’s a lot of things up in the air with our team right now,” said LeBron James, who has never lost a first round matchup in 10 trips to the playoffs.
“It’s next man up, depending on what goes on with our team. That’s two big pieces, obviously, but next man up,” he said. “No excuses.”
Love dislocated his left shoulder in the first quarter, hurting it when he got tangled while chasing a loose ball with Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk, who clamped down on Love’s arm and pulled so hard it popped out of the shoulder joint.
“A bush-league play,” Love said following the game, his arm cradled in a sling. “I have no doubt in my mind that he did that on purpose.”
The Cavaliers won’t know how long Love, in his first playoffs as a pro, will be sidelined until an MRI is taken. The team is expected to provide a medical update on Monday. If Love’s labrum isn’t torn, he could return within a few weeks, but there’s a chance he will be limited by the injury throughout the remainder of the postseason.
Love said he hoped the league’s ruling would be “swift and just.”
Smith, too, is facing disciplinary action after he was ejected for swinging a clenched fist and smacking Boston’s Jae Crowder in the jaw. Crowder crumpled to the floor, sustaining a sprained left knee ligament.
Smith, who came over from New York in a trade, will likely be suspended, inflicting a blow to Cleveland’s depth against either Milwaukee or Chicago. The Bulls can wrap up that series at home on Monday night.
While he was remorseful following the game, Smith, who has been suspended in the past, has placed the Cavs in a bad spot.
“This is a situation that I put my teammates in, and it’s a selfish act because I don’t want anything that we do collectively to be taken away by one individual, whether it’s me or anybody else,” said Smith, who was assessed a flagrant 2 foul.
The Cavs could also lose reserve center Kendrick Perkins. Perkins came in after Love got hurt and flattened Crowder with a high, hard pick, drawing a flagrant 1 but avoiding an ejection.
Cavs coach David Blatt does have options if Love and Smith are not available. Forward Tristan Thompson was an unsung hero against the Celtics, outworking Boston’s big men on the boards. Although he can’t score or space the floor like Love, Thompson showed in his first taste of the postseason that he’s ready for the stage.
Blatt can offset Smith’s absence by giving more playing time to Iman Shumpert, the team’s best perimeter defender. Shumpert was slated to be Cleveland’s starting “off” guard alongside Kyrie Irving, but he had a lingering shoulder injury when he arrived from the Knicks and Blatt liked the energy he provided to the second unit.
Fortunately for the Cavs, they have a few days to rest and rearrange their plans.
And, they still have James, who is aiming at his fifth straight Finals.
“You just control what you can control,” said James, who had 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the clincher. “That’s all we can do.”
AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman in Boston contributed to this report.
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