(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/Rick Osentoski)
The Cleveland Cavaliers finally rediscovered their mojo in their dominant 116-86 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 3. They started out on a 20-4 run to start the game and never really looked back after that. They had the stroke from beyond the arc as they went a sizzling 17-of-34 on 3-pointers. Five Cavs had at least three 3s while six scored in double digits. All that help on offense allowed LeBron James to exert a lot more energy on defense; he finished the night with two blocks and two steals. The Cavs defense as a whole was stellar as they held the Celtics to sub-40 percent shooting.
As for the Celtics, their struggles on the road continued. They were never really able to get much going offensively. Coach Brad Stevens had to resort to giving Greg Monroe minutes, but despite scoring ten points, he gave up more with his bad defense. After three straight games of 23 or more points, Jaylen Brown finally cooled off as he finished with just ten points on eight shot attempts in 21 minutes. Meanwhile, Al Horford was also silenced in a big way as he had a mere four shot attempts in 30 minutes, the lowest for any Celtic who played at least 15 minutes.
Three keys to the game
Cavs defense - The Cavs put together arguably their best defensive performance of the entire playoffs when it mattered. Not coincidentally, James providing a bit more effort on that end made a huge difference. But the energy of Tristan Thompson and the effectiveness of George Hill (plus-24) have also played a factor. The Cavs will have to come out with the same type of effort in order to tie the series up.
Celtics aggressiveness - Boston’s road woes reared their ugly head in Game 3. They were simply flat coming out of the gate and were never able to recover. The Celtics’ stars — Horford and Brown — must take responsibility for their slow start and will have to step up significantly in order to avoid a similar fate in Game 4.
3-point shooting - The Cavs were finally able to get their shooters — most notably JR Smith and Kyle Korver — going at home, which is huge. Cleveland basically live and die by the 3-pointer, and when those two are making them, they become much tougher to stop. The added energy of the home crowd likely helped in a big way. If they can continue hitting their shots from downtown, the Celtics will have big problems.
Matchup to watch
Jaylen Brown vs JR Smith - The Celtics’ top scorer was outscored by someone who had just four points through the first two games of the series. That obviously can’t happen again from the Celtics’ perspective. And for the Cavs, the fact that JR is once again hitting his 3s is a game-changer for them. They’ll need a lot more of the same in Game 4.
Celtics projected starting lineup
PG - Terry Rozier | SG - Jaylen Brown | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Marcus Morris | C - Al Horford
Cavs projected starting lineup
PG - George Hill | SG - JR Smith | SF - LeBron James | PF - Kevin Love | C - Tristan Thompson
The Celtics were collectively garbage in terms of fantasy production in Game 3, which was expected given their road struggles. Jayson Tatum had the best night on the team, but even with his 18 points, he didn’t provide much else. You’d figure they should get a bit more production in Game 4, but it’s not a given by any stretch.
As for the Cavs, LeBron remains fantasy gold. Even without a 40-point triple-double, he still provided terrific value with his added defensive stats. Obviously, he’s going to keep getting his. The question will be who among his supporting cast will continue to do the same. Kevin Love could be set for a bit of a bounce-back game after a quiet, 13-point night on 4-of-12 shooting.
The Celtics’ problems on the road are serious. As good as they’ve been this postseason, that just happens with a team this young. With James at the peak of his powers and back to caring about defense and the Cavs making their 3s, it will be tough for them to stay within striking distance. Take the Cavs to cover the 6.5-point spread.
The Cavs tie the series up as they once again blow the Celtics out, 110-94.
This game will be broadcast on ESPN. Tip-off is at 8:30 pm Eastern.