Posted on May 22, 2017, by Travis Pulver
A couple of days ago, the Boston Celtics received a beat down in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals of epic proportions. The next day the team announced that Isaiah Thomas was out for the rest of the season. With the series moving to Cleveland for Games Three and Four there was no way there would be a Game Five—right?
As it turns out, there will be a Game Five after all.
Boston fell behind by as much as 21 points in the third period, but a furious rally cut the deficit down to five heading into the fourth quarter. Cleveland did what it could to hold onto the lead but with 5:43 left in the game Marcus Smart tied the game up at 95-95 with a clutch three-pointer.
The lead changed hands a few times over the second half of the fourth quarter, but with 10 seconds on the clock, the game was tied up, 108-108, with Boston, set to take the final shot.
A play was drawn up for Avery Bradley. It worked, and he became open in the left wing long enough to get off a shot before the buzzer sounded. The ball hit the rim, bounced four times—and then fell in!
Yes, Sports Fans. The Boston Celtics won Game Three in Cleveland, 111-108.
Crazy, right? So—what the heck happened? How did the Celtics get it together without the help of their best player?
Not having Thomas may have actually helped. Without a threat like Thomas to focus on, the Cavaliers just had to treat everyone like a threat. Cleveland’s defense is at its best when it can focus on a couple of players, not all five—and it showed. Six players ended up scoring in double figures for the Celtics, four of the starters including Marcus Smart who was starting in place of Isaiah Thomas.
As a team, the Celtics easily had one of their best shooting performances of the postseason hitting 42 of 91 shots from the floor and 18 of 40 three-pointers. They were especially deadly from behind the arc in the second half (11-22).
Smart had an especially hot hand hitting seven of ten three-pointers and scoring 19 of his 27 points in the second half. Cleveland, on the other hand, hit only two of 17 three-point attempts in the second half (14-22 in the first).
While Boston’s offense was red hot for much of the night, Cleveland still should have had enough firepower of its own to match the unexpected production of the Celtics. In seven of their previous ten playoff games—all wins—they scored more than 111 points. So—what happened?
Easy—LeBron James had an off night. Not just an off night, but a really off-night.
James was just 4-13 on the night for only 11 points. He hit only one basket in the second half (zero in the final 16 minutes of the game). As much as fans may hate to admit it—the man is human. Sometimes humans have bad days (or nights) at work.
“I had a tough game, period. Not just in the second half,” James said after the game. “I didn’t have it. That’s all I’ve got to say about my performance.”
It’s almost a shame that James had such a bad night because it meant the solid performances his teammates had were all for nothing. Kevin Love had another double-double with 28 points and ten rebounds, He caught fire from three-point range hitting seven of his 13 attempts. Kyrie Irving had 29 points, Tristan Thompson had 18, and JR Smith chipped in 13. Cleveland’s bench did not play much, and when they did, they didn’t do much (nine total points).
So, for the time being, it appears that at least the Eastern Conference Finals could end up being competitive. But can the Celtics count on LeBron James having more bad nights? Can they rely on Avery Bradley throwing up a buzzer beater that bounces on the rim four times before it falls?
Can the whole team have another stellar shooting night?
Fans will be able to see if they can when Game Four tips off Tuesday night at 8:30 PM ET on TNT.