LeBron James leads Cavs to victory against Celtics in Game 3
After two Eastern Conference Finals losses to the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Cavaliers came back with a vengeance Saturday night at the Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland.
Faced with the prospect of going down 3-0 – a deficit that no NBA team in history has overcome – LeBron James, Kevin Love and the remaining Cavs found a playoff rhythm that was sorely lacking in the first two games of the series. The youthful Boston Celtics, who have struggled on the road since the loss of All-Star Kyrie Irving, showed their age as they lost by 30 points in a bonafide blowout.
The difference between game 3 and game 2? It all came down to energy.
“More importantly when we broke down defensively we had guys flying at guys… not giving up on plays like in Game 1 and 2. That was a big part in us being a lot better defensively today,” LeBron James said.
That shot-making began with George Hill, who got off to a hot start and scored 13 points — all in the first half — to help Cleveland open up a 20-point halftime lead. J.R. Smith had hit two shots in the first two games, including no threes, but hit three triples in Game 3. Kyle Korver went a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, scoring 14 points off the bench.
Kevin Love went just 4-for-14 from the field, but finished with 13 points, 14 rebounds and four assists. Tristan Thompson had 10 points and seven rebounds and formed a devastatingly effective pick-and-roll partnership with James.
It was basically everything Cleveland didn’t get in the first two games from its supporting cast.
“George Hill was phenomenal from the start, being aggressive,” James said. “Even though Kevin wasn’t hitting shots early he was being aggressive. J.R. was hitting shots. Tristan was being really good screening and rolling. We had our focus, and offensively and defensively we were good.”
Conversely, the Boston Celtics looked like anything but themselves. Aside from a strong showing by rookie Jayson Tatum, who notched 18 points, the team was downright bad. Shooting only 39% from the field and 6-for-22 from the three. Certainly not the game plan that wunderkind coach Brad Stevens had put together.
While the Celtics have had historic difficulty on the road this season and this offseason, it’s premature to say their goose is cooked. Though LeBron James and the Cavaliers are something of comeback specialists – their triumph over the Warriors after a 3-1 deficit will live on in glory forever – the Boston Celtics have a defensive toughness that’s built to make shallow teams like the Cavs crumble.
Outside of LeBron and Kyle Korver, and to a lesser extent Kevin Love, the Cavs lack consistency. While basketball is very much a sport of individual finesse, Boston’s symmetry and loyalty to the Brad Stevens system makes up for a lot of the talent gap between the two teams. Heavily hobbled after losing two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics lack the superstar fire power that the Cavs, in theory, have in spades.
No matter how Game 3 goes, it’s easy to envision seeing this series going all the way to 7. One thing that bodes well for these Celtics: their ability to play like kings at home. A good time to have home court advantage, if there ever was one.