The Boston Celtics are now battling the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, but their team would look very different today if general manager Danny Ainge had his way last summer. With the Cavaliers holding a 2-1 lead over the Celtics, the series is guaranteed to return to Boston for Game 5 Thursday night.
Kyrie Irving and LeBron James combined for 76 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers battled to a 112-99 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday (May 23) to move within one game of a place in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals.
Avery Bradley rattled in a game-winning three pointer at the buzzer as the Boston Celtics clawed their way back into the Eastern Conference final with a 111-108 win over Cleveland Sunday (Monday in Manila).
Not only was there recent history, which included another lopsided game in April for "all the Eastern Conference marbles", but the only elite player on the Celtics roster, Isaiah Thomas, was gone for the series.
"He's human, so he's going to have a night like this", said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue.
James scored just 11 points and committed six turnovers in Game 2 on Sunday night, when the Celtics overcame a 21-point deficit in the third quarter to pull off an upset the odds makers in Las Vegas said was the biggest in the National Basketball Association playoffs over the past 20 years.
Is James, coming into Sunday having scored 30 points or more in eight straight playoff games to tie Michael Jordan for the modern playoff record for such a streak, suddenly suffering from a crisis in confidence? On the second to last possession of Game 3, they doubled down on LeBron and left J.R. Smith wide open at the top of the key to get the crucial basket. "What do you want me to say?" They played cool. Boston just hung in there. We've got to be better, but there's nothing wrong with being confident and feeling good.
It was notable for one enormous reason: Games like this hardly ever happen for him. We lost. It happens. Celtics made 18 three-pointers for the game. When he gets going like that, he's tough to stop. "We know that. Just expecting him to be better in Game 4".
"Defensively, I told them at halftime that we could be better", Lue said.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who elevated to Thomas' starting role, scored 27 points and hit seven 3-pointers during Sunday's win.
Smart rarely shoots that well, though Stevens remains squarely behind him in late-game situations, a time when Smart continues to be a major threat. They swept their first opponent, the Indiana Pacers, and their second opponent the Toronto Raptors. "An fantastic competitor. I got nothing but love and respect for him".
"No, no, they didn't mix up the coverage", James said. "It wasn't his ordinary game".
Just as he did in Game 3. "I thought in the second half we were seeking the three instead of attacking". Imagine looking the best basketball player in the world dead in the eye and trying to compare your work at a Division III school to his performance in the NBA Playoffs.
"It really shocks me because when he shot it, it could have just went right in and gave us enough time to call timeout and run another play, but the way it danced around, it was just luck of the Irish", Smith said.