Cavaliers ‘disappointed’ with NBA officials after huge free-throw discrepancy in Game 4

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CLEVELAND — After a valiant effort that ended in defeat, the Cleveland Cavaliers pointed to a huge discrepancy in free throws as a main factor in their 109-102 loss to Boston in Game 4 of this Eastern Conference semifinal.

The Celtics, on the road, shot 24 free throws and made 21 Monday. Cleveland, which scored 42 points in the paint to Boston’s 38 (which means the Cavs were driving to the rim at least as much as the opponent) attempted just seven foul shots; five went in.

The Celtics now lead the series 3-1 and can close it out with a win Wednesday at TD Garden.

“We drive the ball … a lot,” Cavs guard Darius Garland said, putting an emphasis on those last two words. “Seven free throws, two of those were techs, so five (free throws) in a 48-minute game, it’s tough.”

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he was “disappointed with the way the whistle blew” in Game 4.

“I thought our guys deserved much better, the way that they were competing,” Bickerstaff said. “They were attacking the paint. You know, they were getting after it the same (as Boston).

“We’re not asking for anything more, but we’re asking for equal,” Bickerstaff added. “And I don’t think we got an equal opportunity at it tonight from that standpoint.”

Cleveland was without two of its top players because of injury, with Donovan Mitchell (strained left calf) and Jarrett Allen (rib bruise) sidelined. Rather than fold against the NBA’s best team, without two stars and already trailing in the series, the Cavs put on an impassioned display. They were leading briefly in the third quarter after trailing for most of the first half, and it was a two-possession game with 90 seconds left.

The Celtics took eight free throws in the fourth quarter, and their last four points came at the charity stripe. Cleveland’s only foul shot in the final period came from Garland with 31 seconds remaining in the game.

Garland, who scored 30 points in Game 4, mentioned that the Cavs had previously been limited at the foul line in the playoffs. In a Game 6 loss to Orlando, Cleveland attempted just 10 foul shots to the Magic’s 26. The Cavs took 36 free throws in the deciding Game 7 of that series. Overall, Cleveland is ranked 12th out of 16 playoff teams with 17.5 foul shots per game; in this series with Boston, the Celtics are shooting more than seven free throws more per game than the Cavs.

“That’s ridiculous,” Garland said. “For the amount of drives that we have, the amount of paint attacks … I know how many times I get hit. I know many times my teammates get hit, put on the floor and we can’t reciprocate it. It’s tough.”

Garland initially drew a foul on Al Horford on a drive to the basket during which Garland wound up on the floor, and the call was overturned by a video challenge. Sam Merrill took a 3 at the end of the third quarter and wound up on the floor after drawing contact from Jrue Holiday; official Tyler Ford decided Holiday had hit Merrill’s shooting hand after the ball was gone, which is legal.

Max Strus appeared to draw contact on a few drives to the rim. He couldn’t draw any whistles and missed all those shots; he also was slapped with a technical foul for arguing a no call. He declined to say what the officials — Marc Davis, Courtney Kirkland and Ford — said to him throughout the game.

“I guess we gotta find a way to get more,” Strus said. “Be stronger, be more physical at the rim, to get those.”

Bickerstaff is as hard on officials during games as any of the NBA’s 30 head coaches. He constantly barks over what he perceives to be missed or poor calls, or if he feels calls against his defense are not being reciprocated at the other end on similar plays.

It’s rare his frustration carries over to the postgame news conference, though publicly complaining about officiating at some point in a playoff series is a time-honored tradition leaguewide for coaches trying to swing momentum.

The complaints logged Monday by Bickerstaff didn’t sound like gamesmanship. After a home playoff game his team badly needed and fought diligently in, on a emotional night with the crowd emitting deafening roars and LeBron James seated courtside, perhaps it would have been a step too far to expect Bickerstaff to ignore the disadvantage his team had at the line.

“It just didn’t seem as if it was balanced,” Bickerstaff said.

His thoughts echoed Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle who had said his players “deserve a fair shot, and it’s just not” after Game 2 of the team’s series against the New York Knicks. Last Friday, he was fined $35,000 for those comments.

(Photo of Darius Garland: Nick Cammett / Getty Images)

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