LeBron James played well in Game 3 but it wasn’t one of his superhuman performances. Based on the way the Cleveland Cavaliers played in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, you’d think this kind of performance from James would spell doom for the Cavs.
But that wasn’t the case at all Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena because James’ supporting cast finally showed up as the Cavs blew out the Boston Celtics in Game 3 with a 116-86 victory to cut the series deficit in half.
James led the Cavaliers with 27 points, but the entire Cleveland starting lineup and Kyle Korver off the bench scored in double figures. The Cavs had a total of eight players score 8-plus points.
It was the balanced scoring output that Cleveland sorely lacked in the first two games in Boston. Cavaliers not named James shot 28 percent in Boston, and that mark improved to 45 percent in Game 3.
This is how the Cavs must play to win this series.
The Celtics are too good defensively for James to win this series by himself. Boston has done a tremendous job defending superstars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid during this postseason. They are not letting the best players beat them. This forces the opponent’s role players to step up and contribute, and Cleveland got the production it needed from those guys in Game 3.
Here are some other notes from Celtics-Cavs Game 3:
— Jaylen Brown played his worst game of the series. He scored 10 points on 3-for-8 shooting — down from scoring 23 in each of the first two games in Boston — and committed five fouls. The second-year guard also tallied just two rebounds and one assist in 21 minutes.
— Al Horford also played his worst game of the series, scoring seven points with seven rebounds. He attempted only four shots, which is too small of a number for a player who can excel in the low post. The C’s need to get Horford much more involved in the offense in Game 4, particularly when he’s matched up against Kevin Love.
— The Cavaliers shot very poorly from 3-point range in the first two games in Boston. They hit just 14 of 56 shots from beyond the arc through two games, but that changed in Game 3, where Cleveland connected on 17 of its 34 3-point field goals.
James (3-for-3), J.R. Smith (3-for-4) and Korver (4-for-4) led the long-range barrage for the Cavs.
— George Hill scored only five points in the series opener and three points in Game 2. He was far more aggressive in Game 3, scoring 11 points in the first quarter and finishing with 13 on 4-for-11 shooting. Hill didn’t play well after the first quarter, but he was essential to Cleveland building a huge lead early. And Hill’s willingness to shoot also was encouraging for the Cavs because he was too passive in Boston.
— Marcus Smart didn’t shoot well, hitting just two of his nine attempts and scoring four points. The Celtics guard also took a couple long 2-point shots, which has become the worst shot in basketball. Smart didn’t contribute much in any facet, finishing with zero rebounds, six assists and no blocks.
— Terry Rozier has been great at home and lackluster on the road during the playoffs. He entered Saturday averaging 20 points in nine home playoff games, compared to an average of just 12.8 points in five road games. Rozier scored 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting (1-for-4 from beyond the arc) with three rebounds and three assists in Game 3.
— Boston’s 30-point loss was its largest of the season. The Celtics’ worst loss prior to Saturday night was Game 3 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
— This is the seventh playoff series between James and the Celtics. The winner of Game 3 emerged victorious in only one of the previous six series.
— Cavs coach Ty Lue was a little testy with a reporter after Game 2 when asked why Rodney Hood was still in the rotation. Well, Lue didn’t play Hood at all in Game 3 and Cleveland dominated offensively. It’ll be interesting to see if Hood is left out of the rotation again in Game 4 because he can be a very good shooter when he’s playing with confidence.
Thumbnail photo via Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports