BOSTON — Midway through the first quarter of the Celtics’ Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, the world-famous rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z walked into the TD Garden in Boston, wife Beyoncé on his arm.
He was a little late, but he arrived at the arena in plenty of time to witness the astounding bounceback performance of LeBron James, the leader of the Cavs and a close personal friend of his.
With the momentum decidedly swung in the Celtics’ direction and the skeptics quietly starting to question the Cavaliers’ will to win, LeBron silenced everyone with a performance for the ages, dropping 38 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on the host Celtics in Game 3. He fueled the Cavs’ 124-95 blowout win, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that, to invoke an old title from Jay-Z himself, “The Ruler’s Back.”
“Aggression was my mindset,” James said after Friday’s win. “It was my mindset to come out really aggressive and just dictate tempo from the start of the jump, and I was able to do that.”
LeBron came at the Celtics early, driving the lane and forcing the Celtics to find an answer quickly. “Show Me What You Got,” he dared them. The Celtics had nothing.
James had 21 points in the first quarter alone; the Celtics’ entire team had 17. It was all over from there.
“I think he’s healthy,” C’s coach Doc Rivers deadpanned after watching James’ performance. “He looked awful good. I mean, he was great. You knew it, though. You knew it coming into the game. We told our guys, you knew he was going to grab the ball and attack all game, especially early, to get his guys involved. And he did it, but I didn’t think we gave any resistance, you know? I mean, he was playing HORSE.”
The Celtics had “99 Problems” trying to stop LeBron. When the Celtics let him drive, he either scored easily or got to the line and hit two shots. When they forced him into jumpers, he nailed them. When they helped off of him, hoping to finally slow him down, he hit an open teammate and the Cavs got an easy two points.
Boston’s defense fell asleep at the wheel, and the Cavs were quick to capitalize. They were ready to “Change the Game.” The Celtics let them.
“Tonight, we were awful,” Rivers said. “We just didn’t play with a lot of urgency, and they played with a Game 7 mentality. You could see it early. I thought we had two lousy practices this week. I thought our preparation was pulling nails. So this was the result.”
It’s a “Hard Knock Life” for the Celtics. This one will be tough to come back from.
“Terrible loss,” Paul Pierce said. “It was embarrassing, to tell you the truth. It’s embarrassing when you lose at home like that. So we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us. We know it’s not going to be easy.”
The Celtics aren’t going to be “Young Forever.” They’re running out of chances to make a repeat run for a championship. Their 2010 title hopes took a huge blow on Friday night.
This season isn’t yet a “Lost One.” But this is a deflating night for the Celtics, no doubt.
On a night when the Red Sox were blown out at Fenway, the Bruins lost a heartbreaker in Philly and King James humiliated the Celtics at the Garden, the “Heart of the City” has been shot.
“You don’t get this one back,” Pierce said. “It’s up to us to get a good practice in tomorrow and try to bounce back on Sunday.”
Time for the Celtics to put this game behind them and move on. From here, it’s “On to the Next One.”