Nobody has been the butt of more jokes this month than the Cleveland Cavaliers not named “LeBron James.” A Boston TV station ranked members of LeBron’s supporting cast by how useless they have been during the playoffs. Here at The Ringer, we made a Star Wars parody trailer called Bron Solo: A Cavaliers Story. Saturday Night Live had a skit in which one of LeBron’s teammates was portrayed by a Roomba. It was the perfect stand-in: something that wanders aimlessly while sucking for about two hours at a time.
On Saturday night, the joke was on all of us. The non-LeBron Cavs outscored the Celtics, notching 89 points as Cleveland smacked Boston 116-86 to pull the series to 2-1.
George Hill started the fire with 11 points, three 3s, and two assists in the first quarter. After a slow start, Kevin Love took the baton from Hill and finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds (double Al Horford’s Celtic-leading seven-rebound mark). Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith, who were 3-of-17 from deep (17.6 percent) in the first two games of the series, combined to go 7-of-8 (87.5 percent) from 3 on Saturday night. Clearly, the Roombas were out for revenge.
It was shocking to see the Cavaliers’ offense come back to life, but Cleveland’s defensive resurrection was even more surprising. Halfway through the first quarter, the Celtics had more turnovers than field goals, and Boston finished with 15 turnovers to just 16 assists. Jayson Tatum had 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting with one rebound and one assist, while Jaylen Brown got into foul trouble and finished with just 10 points, one assist, and two rebounds. Brad Stevens turned to some odd lineup choices early, even playing Guerschon Yabusele (??) in the first quarter. Finally, the Cavs stumped Stevens and the Celtics.
“When we broke down defensively we had guys flying at guys making them take extra dribbles, making extra passes and not giving up on plays that we did in Game 1 and Game 2,” LeBron told ESPN’s Doris Burke after the game.
James led the NBA in minutes during the regular season (he was the only player to surpass 3,000 total this season) at 36.9 minutes per game and then upped that to a ridiculous 40.8 minutes per game in the playoffs. On Saturday, LeBron played “just” 38 minutes and went to the bench with 2:16 left in the first quarter (the Cavs were winning 27-11). And, to everyone’s surprise, Cleveland’s lead did not disappear into the ether.
The King wasn’t exactly resting in Game 3. He finished with 27 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, and two attacks from the sky. One was an aerial robbery of Horford …
… and one was a dunk after Marcus Morris got caught sleeping.
The Cavs will try to defend home court again on Monday with the chance to tie the series heading back to Boston. It’ll be tough for the Cavs to replicate this success, and Stevens will surely head to his underground-bunker lab to devise new counterattacks (and inbound passes). But, for at least one game, the Cavs supporting cast proved they aren’t a joke.
Correction: Due to a typo, an earlier version of this piece said LeBron James had 27 rebounds. He had 27 points.