BOSTON, Massachusetts — The Cleveland Cavaliers won a game, won a series, but lost an important piece of their puzzle at the TD Garden on Sunday.
In fact, they may have lost two pieces of their puzzle for the first game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the survivor of the Chicago-Milwaukee first-rounder.
Forward Kevin Love departed early in the game with a dislocated left shoulder courtesy of Boston forward Kelly Olynyk, while guard J.R. Smith faces a possible league suspension for hitting and injuring Celtics forward Jae Crowder with a forearm in the third quarter.
“I thought it was a bush-league play,” Love said after the Cavs finished off a four-game sweep of the Celtics with a physical 101-93 victory — Love leaving after Olynyk locked arms chasing a long rebound, thus popping out his shoulder. “I was out there, and Olynyk was in a compromising position; he had no chance to get the ball. It’s just too bad he would go to those lengths to take somebody out of a game.
“I have no doubt in my mind that he did it on purpose … that’s just not a basketball play. The league will take a look at it. It better be swift and just.”
Olynyk was unavailable for comment but teammate, Evan Turner, said, “Kelly’s not that type of dude,” and talked about Olynyk’s perennial trouble boxing out, even in practice. “The guy that did it is not a malicious guy,” he said.
Love, whose left arm was in a sling at the end of his long-awaited first playoff series, said, “I do intend on playing in the playoffs.”
Smith flattened Crowder in the third quarter, and the latter was helped off with a knee injury.
“I’m nervous as hell to see what could come out of this,” said Smith, who has had trouble with the league before but said there was ‘nothing malicious’ about what he did. “Hopefully it works out for the best.”
Said Turner: “That was just dumb.”
After Love left, former Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, just into the game in the second quarter, flattened Crowder on a screen, causing a mini scuffle.
The physical play never stopped. Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds, called it, “The most physical game that I’ve ever played in.”
Perkins, who played 2:08 in the first three games, had just checked in 18 seconds before the get-together, but with Love gone, the extra body was needed.
Perkins and Crowder exchanged heated words during a 2013 game, when Perkins was with Oklahoma City and Crowder with Dallas.
Forward LeBron James scored 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out eight assists as the Cavs built a 21-point halftime lead and held off a Boston charge that brought the Celtics as close as eight early in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics then shaved the lead to six with 37.1 seconds left, and got the ball back on a turnover a second later but forward Gigi Datome missed a 3-pointer and Irving nailed two free throws to build the lead back to eight.
“They gave us the test we needed,” James said.
James led his team to a 57-36 halftime lead with 13 points five rebounds and six assists.
Guard Iman Shumpert 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, and center Timofey Mozgov 12 points and 11 boards for the Cavaliers.
Forward Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while guard Isaiah Thomas scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half and added nine assists before fouling out with 23.9 seconds left.
Thomas, who scored 22 points in each of the first two games of the series, was 4-of-17 Sunday and 6-of-26 in the final two games — 1-of-10 from 3-point range.
Guard Avery Bradley added 16 points for Boston.
“I feel like we fought hard the entire series, we just fell short,” Bradley said. “Cleveland was the better team.”
The Celtics were 3-of-23 from 3-point range and 22-of-35 from the foul line Sunday. Cleveland won the game despite going 7-of-33 from 3-point range and missing 11 free throws.
With their team on the brink with a minute left, the home crowd broke into a “Let’s Go Celtics” chant, and the team — which overachieved by winning 40 games in the regular season, 15 more than last year — was given an ovation as James dribbled out the game’s final seconds.
As the teams were shaking hands at midcourt, the “Let’s Go Celtics” chant broke out again.
“We’ve been able to pull together, buy into (Coach) Brad (Stevens’) system, improve every single day as a team and as individuals and we have a chance to make something amazing happen,” Bradley said.