Cavs Crush Celtics in Game 3 For Much-Needed Eastern Finals Victory
Down two games to none and in a desperate spot, the Cleveland Cavaliers secured a huge victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Updated: May 20, 2018 • 12:05 AM ET
George Hill was an early spark in the Cavs' victory on Saturday.
CLEVELAND — When LeBron James and his teammates arrived at Quicken Loans Arena for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, they knew their backs were against a giant green wall. James’ Cleveland Cavaliers were demolished by the Celtics in Game 1 and Game 2 of the series, and a third straight loss would all but put the series to bed.
The Cavs lost the first two games in Boston by an average of 19 points per game, showing many on-court ailments in the process. The biggest detriment to Cleveland’s success, or lack thereof in the first two games, could be attributed to the starting backcourt — fairly or otherwise. Point guard George Hill and shooting guard J.R. Smith combined to score only 12 points in 117 total minutes on the floor in the first two games.
Yet, the backcourt duo weren’t the only Cavaliers that struggled from the field in the first two games, as the team shot 36 percent in Game 1 and the same clip aside James and Kevin Love in Game 2. Cleveland averaged just 88.5 points in the first two games, which won’t win many contests in today’s long-range NBA, let alone a possibly league-altering playoff game.
Were Cleveland’s scoring woes due off-shooting nights by players, or should the Celtics be showered with credit for keeping the Cavs’ role-players in check? A change of scenery from the waters of the Boston Harbor to the shores of Lake Erie on Saturday may not have completely answered that question, but Cleveland’s dominant 116-86 victory in Game 3 shed some light on the subject.
“We challenged everyone to be aggressive, understand the gameplan,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said. “We still had a couple screwups…but other than that, it was really a great defensive game for us.”
Attempting to overcome an 0-2 playoff deficit for the third time in franchise history (2007 ECF, 2016 Finals), the Cavs got the process started early in Game 3 by jumping out to a staggering 20-4 lead less than seven minutes into the game. Cleveland led 32-17 when the first quarter ended, and they only continued the onslaught as halftime approached.
Fans inside The Q roared with enthusiasm throughout the beatdown, but the building may have experienced its maximum pitch with 3:09 remaining in the half. Love slipped a sweet pass to James behind the defense for an emphatic reverse dunk that gave the Cavs a 54-34 lead and erupted the arena. Cleveland led 61-41 at halftime, but James and Love weren’t done connecting for highlight reel plays.
Love hit James with another gorgeous pass early in the third quarter, this time of the alley-oop variety that gave the Cavs a 69-43 lead. The route only continued from there, as Boston never came within single digits the rest of the way.
“Just trying to put myself in position to help our team,” James said on his defensive effort in Game 3. “I think tonight as a group, even when things broke down, we just covered for one another. We made them make extra passes, we made them make extra dribbles, so we were flying around and I just happened to be one of the guys on the floor that wanted to fly around as well.”
James, who aside his offensive exploits also had a superb block on Celtics big man Aaron Baynes midway through the first quarter, totaled 27 points, five rebounds and 12 assists. And whenever discussing James’ performances on the court, the debate of how much help he has often comes up. While the entire team was outstanding defensively on Saturday, the non-LeBron’s did just enough to keep the Cavs out of striking distance.
All five Cavaliers starters reached double-figures in scoring, including Love, who recorded his fifth double-double of the postseason with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Hill also scored 13 points, while sometimes maligned backcourt mate Smith finished with 11 points and five rebounds. Fifth starter Tristan Thompson put in a workman’s effort with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum did his best to keep Boston close with 18 points, but no other Celtics player scored more than 13 points and only four players wearing green scored in double-figures.
“They were great,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “We were clearly not the harder playing more connected team tonight. Cleveland was, and they deserve all the credit for that.”
Roughly an hour and a half before tipoff, Lue expressed how excited he was for the evening’s events to unfold. He couldn’t really sleep the night before, but he probably couldn’t have foreseen his team cruising to such a resounding win in Game 3. He said he wasn’t discouraged after falling into an 0-2 hole, despite the reality that the Celtics franchise has never lost a playoff series when leading 2-0.
After securing the “must-win” in Game 3, relative importance for Cleveland lies on Game 4. The Cavs will do everything in their power to go back to Boston with a 2-2 series, but if they have any hopes of winning their fourth straight Eastern Conference crown, they know they’ll have to win at least one game in Boston, where the Celtics are undefeated at in the postseason.
“We moved them around a little bit more,” Lue said. “They’re a physical team, they lock in and they switch at multiple positions. So, I thought we did some different stuff, moving without the basketball, moving the ball, moving bodies and then trying to exploit the mismatches.
“We did a good job of that tonight, and we just have to continue to keep doing it.”
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