That was a very weird, eventually fun, almost indecipherable Boston victory over Cleveland, on the road, 111–108. Whose game was that?
The Sports Gods Game
Everyone outside of the greater Boston area had moved on from this series already. And maybe that was the problem. They say a playoff series doesn’t start until a road team wins, so what does it mean when you have a series where the home team can’t protect its own court?
Game 3 proved, without a doubt, that the Sports Gods exist, they are listening, they have a sense of humor, and they have a mean streak. First off, on behalf of sports editors everywhere: DO ONE, SPORTS GODS. Not only did they ruin the Sundays of bloggers everywhere, they punished the hubris of NBA fans and pundits who dared say these playoffs had been boring, or that the Cavs should have already been planning their Bay Area ramen-shop crawl for the Finals. If you want blood, you got it. I don’t know if I would classify that game as exciting, but it hardly matters: This is going back to Boston, whether we want it to or not. The only thing that could have made this a more spiritual/karmic experience was if the Celtics had been 31 down; it would have been perfect (get it? 3–1 down?) (I don’t mean to insult your intelligence, I’m just making sure). Instead, Boston came back from 21, missing its best player, against the best player in the galaxy, in that player’s backyard, with Dave Chappelle and a fan in the audience.
The Jonas Jerebko Game
A classic clutch Jerebko game, from the storied Swedish sniper. Totally in the cards. Bovada wasn’t even taking bets.
The Kevin Love Game
Should have been! Love had 28 points, seven 3-pointers, and was basically a dribbling checkmate for the first half. He’s been having a great series against Boston — putting up 32 in Game 1, 21 in Game 2, and tearing the roof of The Q to start Game 3 with a 15-point first quarter. Also? He was the best quarterback on a Cleveland professional sports franchise.
But no matter how gaudy his offensive stats look, he still has an air of "Can’t Play Kanter" to him. He played the whole third quarter, and that’s where things fell apart for Cleveland, with the Cavs outscored by 11 when nobody was looking. In the flow of the early-game offense, Love feasts on open 3-point looks. But when the game tightens, he fails to get his own shot or doesn’t get the ball at all (he had only two attempts in the fourth).
The Marcus Smart Game
Smaht is the Sgt. Dignam of the Celtics: a junkyard dog who writes checks with his mouth and plays with a bottomless well of self-belief. He got the starting nod on Sunday, replacing the injured Thomas, and he looked … like a bigger Isaiah who could actually play defense. Smart scored 27, with a mind-boggling seven 3s. He averaged only four 3-point attempts per game during the regular season. Not only did he replace Thomas in the starting lineup, he replaced him as the Celtics’ closer, getting eight in the fourth and adding three assists (with no turnovers), the most important of which was on Avery Bradley’s rim-flirting 3 to win the game.
Speaking of that last play …
The Brad Stevens Clipboard Game
Damn, Brad Stevens had me actually thinking his big idea for the end of the game was to put Marcus Smart one-on-one with LeBron. You know who agreed with me? J.R. Smith, because that’s the only explanation for how he Bobby Fischered out of this play so badly. Credit to Avery Bradley, who might have faked Smith out a bit with his "I have no responsibilities here" pose to start the set. He’s got his hands on his hips right up until the second where he matadors Jae Crowder, completely confusing Smith.
The Cav on the right is Iman Shumpert, who already knows Bradley has a wide-open shot and can’t believe he and Smith are both covering Crowder on the baseline.
Maybe it was simple, but the execution was advanced. The lack of close games have robbed us of Brad’s Rothko of the whiteboard routine.
Glad we got to see it at least one time in the conference finals.
The LeBron James Game
Before Game 3, Stevens was heaping praise on LeBron for being even better than he was when Stevens first entered the league. What was that? Eleven points, six boards, six assists in 45 minutes? With six turnovers? Why did LeBron play like he was possessed by the basketball spirit of Frank Kaminsky? There will be a couple of cooked-on-a-low-heat takes about LeBron choking in a big game against Boston, bringing up the ghosts of 2008 and 2010, but life is too short for that nonsense. The thing you should know is LeBron’s jumper abandoned him. Paolo Uggetti wrote about LeBron’s scorching postseason shooting streak on Friday.
This is what he dialed up on Sunday:
After losing Game 1 big, Stevens openly considered doubling LeBron in future contests. Sunday, the Celtics packed the paint, but didn’t throw that many bodies at LeBron — not an inordinate amount, at least. He vanished when his team needed him most — in the fourth, going 0-for-3 from the field, 0-of-2 from behind the arc, and not getting to the line once. Maybe he thought Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving would provide the punch needed once they entered the game in the final frame? Maybe Stevens had the benefit of running bigger, better defensive guards at him. After the game, the Boston coach said, "We just tried to be as solid as possible. We tried to switch a little bit less. And, you know, we have a couple of guards out there who are bigger guards. We tried to rotate bodies on him."
He didn’t have it. He needs it back