Cleveland rebounds from two bad games to tighten series
Before taking the floor, LeBron James stood in the hallway with his teammates outside Cleveland’s locker room and pounded his chest with both hands.
The Celtics got thumped next.
James had 27 points and 12 assists, Kevin Love added 14 rebounds and the Cavaliers looked like a different team on their home court, tightening the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-86 victory in Game 3 over Boston on Saturday night.
Outplayed during two losses in Boston, the Cavs used a three-day break in the series to regroup and re-grip this series. With James leading the way, they built a 19-point lead in the first quarter, pushed it to 30 in the second half and overpowered the Celtics, who fell to 1-5 on the road in the postseason.
Any discussion of Cleveland’s demise is premature. Kyle Korver made four of the Cavs’ 17 3-pointers and Cleveland had six players in double figures.
“I also have to inspire my teammates to be better,” James said. “They answered the call tonight and they need to answer the phone another time on Monday.”
Game 4 is Monday night before the series returns to Boston.
Jaylen Brown was in foul trouble all night and scored just 10 for the Celtics after averaging 23 in the first two games. Jayson Tatum scored 18 and Terry Rozier 13 for Boston, which couldn’t match Cleveland in any aspect.
“They took it to us,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Point blank: They just outplayed us.”
Only 19 of a possible 300 teams have ever overcome a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs. James and the Cavs, who previously did it in 2007 and again in 2016 while winning the NBA title, took the first step toward a third comeback.
To return to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year, the Cavs have to win four of five and re-write Boston’s illustrious history. The Celtics are 37-0 when they win the first two games in a series.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said before Game 3. “The games have to be played. They won two games on their home court, which we know they’ve been playing well the whole playoffs, but we’re not discouraged.
“So, 0-2 doesn’t really mean anything.”
Apparently not. The Cavs came in wanting to play faster and be more physical with the younger Celtics, who were the aggressors in Games 1 and 2.