CLEVELAND — No matter how many times media members poked and prodded, trying to expose any sort of cracks in demeanor, LeBron James continued to maintain that, despite a 0-2 after the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, there was no worry setting in with him or his team as it headed back to Cleveland to play two crucial home games, series in the balance.
Like many an occasion, LeBron was proven correct, and, as per usual, he did so in the most extravagant way possible.
James scored 44 points, making 17 of his 28 field goal attempts, while the Cavaliers role players once again shined at home as Cleveland came away with a 111-102 victory over the Celtics to tie the conference finals series at two apiece.
After Boston’s two victories at home, the numbers appeared to be against the Cavaliers, as the Celtics’ 37-0 record in best-of-seven series after going up 2-0 was supposed to weight down Cleveland’s chances of a series victory like an anchor. However, numbers also pointed in favor of the Cavaliers, as LeBron’s teams were a combined 6-0, going into Saturday’s Game 3, when it found themselves down 2-0 in a series.
You can make it 8-0 now, as LeBron’s hot start helped the Cavaliers open up a 19-point first half lead, knocking the Celtics on their heels once more on the road.
“Obviously, we were a lot better defensively, flying around and making them take contested shots and making them make the extra pass and still being able to fly around,” said James, who scored 22 points in each half. “Our communication level has been up obviously in the last two games.”
Unlike Game 2, when LeBron’s hot start was not complimented by any stellar performances by other players on the team outside of Kevin Love, the Cavaliers got contributions from all over the court. In 25 minutes off the bench, Kyle Korver scored 14 points while also providing surprisingly staunch defense on Celtics wings Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
[Korver’s] doing whatever it takes to try to help us win, with the blocks, with the strips,” said James of Korver. “Obviously his shot making is very key for our team as well, but it’s just the intangibles he’s doing for us defensively that has put him in a position to be on the floor.”
While Love was saddled with foul trouble all game, fellow frontcourt player Tristan Thompson continued to make an impact in this postseason, posting a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Celtics cut Cleveland’s lead to eight on a couple of occasions in the second half, including after an Al Horford dunk with 8:28 remaining cut Cleveland’s lead to 96-88. However, Cleveland established control of the game, never letting the Celtics come any closer and as the Cavaliers continued to end quarters much better than Boston in clinching another home victory and sending the series back to Boston tied.
“The end of the first [quarter], end of the third were two that really stand out as not good,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “The rest of the game, obviously I thought we had some shots we’d like to have back. We had a couple possessions where we had multiple drive-and-kicks, the defense was broken down and we just didn’t convert. But the end of the first, end of the third, those were tough on us.”