Cavs Record-Setting Win Has Momentum Going Their Way
Such are the results of one emphatic statement by the Cavs in a Game 3 win that could demoralize the Celtics if they let it. Such is the potential fallout of the worst home loss in the Celtics lengthy and storied playoff history.
The Cavs swung the series momentum back their way, and could have provided a turning point. They played well offensively and, for one game at least, rediscovered their defensive identity. And they set a few playoff records of their own: largest margin of victory, most points and best shooting (59.5 percent).
Individually, LeBron James set records with 21 first-quarter points and 28 in the first half. James had the second-best game by a visitor against Boston ever in the postseason, with 38 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and one steal. The only other player to reach those categories in a postseason game against Boston? Oscar Robertson, who had 43, 14 and 10 for the Cincinnati Royals in 1963, according to Elias.
James also scored the 2,000th playoff point of his career, and he's five assists from becoming the 25th player to have 2,000 points and 500 assists in the postseason. In this year's playoffs, James is averaging 32 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists. In Game 3, James outscored the Celtics "Big Three" of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen 38-37.
What led to the change from bad Cavs in Game 2 to good Cavs in Game 3 and good Celtics in Game 2 to bad Celtics in Game 3 is anyone's guess. Mike Brown used a lot of coach-speak -- which seems appropriate -- when he said his team's "aggression, focus, energy and effort" were there for nearly the entire game. But it might just have been one of those nights for the Celtics, and one of those nights for the Cavs -- because everything went right for them. Loose balls, rebounds, tips, foul calls -- everything went Cleveland's way.
What prompted the swing from game to game will be determined Sunday. Perhaps the Cavs found themselves, perhaps Boston received the same wakeup call Cleveland got one game sooner. If nothing else is true about this series, it's that it's swung like a pendulum the last two games.
"We got to live for tomorrow and not for yesterday," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the team's work. "Hopefully it was just one night."
There were several keys Friday, starting with the most obvious: The health and play of James. For two games he clearly played through discomfort -- unless the sight of someone grimacing and grabbing their shooting elbow means all is hunky-dory. Three days of rest and rehab (and perhaps a shot) seemed to have worked. James played with rare passion Friday, making jumper after jumper in the first quarter and sending Glen Davis flailing to the floor when he blocked what looked like a possible dunk in the first quarter.
If James plays like that every game, it will be tough for the Cavs to lose any game.
Paul Pierce has not been a factor for Boston. He shot 4-of-15 in Game 3 and is 13-for-42 for the series. Pierce is not shooting well, but he also has to chase James around the court on defense. The obvious conclusion seems to be that the work is taking a toll.
Antawn Jamison talked prior to Game 3 about making Kevin Garnett work defensively, and he did that. Garnett had his best shooting game -- 8-for-11 -- and scored 19 points, but Jamison had his best game offensively as well, with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Jamison probably can't defend Garnett on the low post, but he can score to offset what Garnett does. And Jamison clearly benefits when James plays so well.
Anthony Parker contributed as well by picking up Rajon Rondo fullcourt. Brown said Cavs scout Bryant Moore had suggested prior to the series that it would best to guard Rondo the entire length of the floor. Brown said no. Then Parker, Delonte West and Mo Williams suggested it prior to Game 3. Brown said yes.
"I said, 'Hey maybe I'm wrong, so let's try it,'" Brown said. "so the guys tried it. And it worked out a little better to where it seemed like (Rondo) wasn't as comfortable surveying the floor."
As often happens it might have "worked" because the Cavs won. Rondo still finished with 18 points and eight assists, but his team lost.
"It worked out better than doing it my way, so we'll continue doing it their way," Brown said.
The Celtics also would seem to understand that if Parker is on Rondo then Williams is guarding Ray Allen. That advantage goes to Boston -- but Friday Allen never was a factor, taking just nine shots.
Boston has lamented the free throw difference -- the Celtics have been whistled for 78 fouls, the Cavs 57. In Friday's first quarter, the tone for the game was set when the Cavs took 13 free throws to Boston's five. Pierce attributed the difference to Cleveland's aggressiveness, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers quipped he'd have to send in more calls to the league because it might help.
At some point, though, the fouls have to be ignored and a team has to play. A veteran team like Boston would seem to understand.
With Game 5 set for Tuesday night in Cleveland, the Celtics have little choice but to understand their fate if they don't win Sunday. The Cavs quashed a lot of questions about themselves with Friday's win. Sunday, they can quash a lot of the hopes of Boston.