With their backs against the wall, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers took Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals 116-86. Cleveland dominated from start to finish, led by LeBron’s 27 points and 12 assists.
The biggest story in this game was the play from Cleveland’s supporting cast. As the saying goes- role players play better at home. George Hill set the tone early, scoring 11 first quarter points on his way to a 13 point, three rebound game. A total of six Cavaliers scored in double figures. Kevin Love produced 13 points and 14 rebounds. Tristan Thompson was also big on the boards, grabbing seven to go along with ten points. J.R. Smith finally got hot, knocking down three of four three pointers. Kyle Korver added 14 points off the bench.
Cleveland knocked down a staggering 17 threes on 50% shooting. It seemed as if nobody on the team could miss. The Cavs dominated on the boards, ripping down 45 rebounds (eight offensive) to Boston’s 34.
Ty Lue mentioned the team’s increased energy and effort, stating, “We challenged everyone, just to be aggressive and understand the game plan.”
Cavs Bring Back Memories of Last Year
Game 3 way eerily reminiscent of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics simply had no answer for LeBron and could not withstand the constant barrage of threes. Boston settled for too many tough jumpers, shooting an abysmal 39% from the field and 27% from three. The team made as many three pointers in the game (six) as Cleveland had in the first quarter. Carelessness with the ball led to a lot of easy buckets for the Cavs, as Boston turned the ball over 12 times.
Al Horford was asked about what went wrong postgame and he responded, “I can tell you right now off the top of my head there was a lot of breakdown defensively- it’s something we have to address, and be better at on Monday if we want to have any chance of winning.”
Al Horford did not attempt a field goal in the first quarter. He finished the game with seven points and seven rebounds. Terry Rozier chipped in 13 on yet another poor shooting game on the road, going 5-12 from the field. There wasn’t a first quarter breakout from Jaylen Brown this time around, as he was nowhere to be seen in this one. Brown didn’t register his first point until eight minutes left in the 2nd quarter. He ultimately finished with ten for the game.
Resiliency for Boston’s Youth
The one bright spot for Boston in Game 3 was the effort of Jayson Tatum, who refused to give up early on. When nothing was going for the team, Tatum relentlessly attacked the basket, getting to the free throw line repeatedly. He finished the night with a team-leading 18 points on 6 of 10 shooting.
After the game Brad Stevens said about the Celtics, “They always respond. This will be another challenge to respond to.”
The Road Ahead
Cleveland delivered a momentum-changing punch right to the gut of the Celtics. If they intend to steal a game on the road they will need to punch right back in Game 4. The Celtics will need to bring the energy and physicality for Game 4 and play with a much higher sense of urgency. If anything, this game should serve as a wake up call for the team.
Game 4 is set for Monday night at 8:30 pm on ESPN. LeBron and the Cavs will look to tie this series up, as the Celtics hope to head back home with an opportunity to close it out on their home court.