By MyFM's Jake Archer - There was one thing that was clear going into Saturday night's Game 3 in Cleveland between the Cavaliers and the Celtics. This night would tell us everything. Was LeBron going to take his game to another level like an all-time great should, or would he quit on his team and start looking towards offseason free agency? We'd certainly find out.
Right out of the gate, it was clear that LeBron wasn't calling it quits just yet (although he wasn't really in that "I'm willing us to win" mode). His teammates really stepped up and started to find their groove after a few days off. Couple that with the Celtics looking very, very bad and the referees being in Cleveland's back pocket and this thing turned into a nightmare quickly.
It's crazy how home court in the NBA is such a big advantage. That's why they say a series doesn't start until a team wins on the road. Boston is 1-5 this postseason when they are away from the Garden and both teams just looked so, so different. The Cavs role players had some pep in their step and were making plays while the C's were disjointed and listless. James and his teammates built up an early 19-point lead as the C’s shot themselves into a hole in the first quarter and from there, the game never swung back the other way.
This Boston team has made huge comebacks and responded to adversity really well, so I actually didn't really give up hope until late in the third quarter. I knew they weren't going to roll over but it's also tough to say they gave their best effort. When you lose by 30, you can't blame the refs or make excuses. The Celtics just never helped themselves.
Honestly, when I think about some of the bad calls made against the Celtics last night, it’s frustrating, but you have to keep it in perspective. The league needs this series to go longer so there was no possible way anything was going to be different. If all the calls had gone for Boston, we probably still would have lost by about 10 points. If the calls were even, maybe we lose by 15 or 20. It just wound up being the perfect storm for a blowout.
The Cavs had completely regrouped and were actually playing defense. For a team who has been so bad on that end all season, they committed and it seemed like Boston didn’t know what to do. It probably really benefitted them to have the long layoff from Tuesday to Saturday. The C’s offense stalled with bad isolations and terrible shot selection. Marcus Morris got too into shooting whenever he touched the ball and even Terry Rozier was guilty of not doing the right things. There were miscues and miscommunications and now the Celtics looked like the team that was growing frustrated with each other.
Cleveland was flying around and improving their lead in every quarter. “They took it to us,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “Point blank: they just outplayed us.” It was honestly weird to watch how the Cavs did it too. It was speed and physicality that got them back into this against the young Boston team. They were just more desperate (obviously) and played an aggressive game all night long. Like I said, James had a good game, but this was more about his supporting cast then anything.
LeBron played only 38 minutes and scored 27 points while five rebounds, 12 assists, two steals and two blocks. He was efficient and ended the game with a +31 plus/minus. The rest of the starters, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, George Hill and JR Smith all were in double figures. Kyle Korver also scored 14 off of the bench. The only player not getting minutes for the Cavs was Rodney Hood.
The Celtics had one of their worst losses all season and although it was a combination of everything, the offense really stunk. Jayson Tatum led the way with just 18 points while Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown (who was in foul trouble all night and couldn’t get comfortable) and Greg Monroe were the only other Boston players in double-digit points. Al Horford was not used enough, Aron Baynes was terrible and Marcus Morris wouldn’t stop insisting on taking shots despite not hitting them. No Celtic had a positive plus/minus. Boston is still playing with a short rotation due to the injury to Shane Larkin, and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be coming back.
The narrative changes so drastically after every single game in the NBA playoffs, and now the national media will start talking about how the Cavaliers are going to come back from down 2-0 to win. They forget that just the other day they were burying them and crowning the Celtics as this otherworldly group. The crazy people who said the Celtics should trade Kyrie and Gordon Hayward have now been put in their place as well. This is still an improbable run by a group of young underdogs. Only 19 of 300 NBA teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a playoff series, but James led two of those teams. The Celtics have never lost a series after taking that advantage.
It’s weird to see the Celtics play like they’ve been reading their press clippings. They have been a humble group but Rozier admitted after the game that they needed to get their butts kicked. I know they’ll come back with a vengeance on Monday night and things will be different. I don’t know that they’ll win (Boston fans got way too high about this series too early) but if they can steal Game 4 in Cleveland, they’ll be in fantastic shape. It’s going to be tough as the Cavs have a great home-court advantage and now have momentum, but it’s doable. I’m still confident in a series win, it just was not going to be a walk-away. Tip-off on Monday night is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Come back here for the recap!