Cleveland Cavaliers match LeBronJames’ tempo to claim Game 3 over Boston Celtics NBA


CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers‘ struggles with the Boston Celtics early in the East finals involved nuance, circumstance and shades of gray.

Also, they couldn’t make a 3-pointer, open or contested.

The Cavs’ various ills have a way of fading into the background when the 3s drop, and those deep makes tend to unlock energy to execute in other phases of the game. Following the trades in February, the Cavs averaged 13 3-pointers and 42 percent shooting on them in wins and just nine on 29 percent shooting in losses.

When the Cavs went 0-of-14 on 3s in the first half of Game 1 and then 3-of-17 in the second half of Game 2 it wasn’t a surprise that they had everything from defensive issues to dribbling issues. They were just 2-of-15 on uncontested 3-pointers in those games, which explains a great deal.

So we could spend time at this juncture examining Cleveland’s defensive execution (it was vastly improved) in Game 3 Saturday night. We could talk about how Boston seems to lose its swagger on the road in the postseason (1-5). And so on.

Instead, all you need to truly know is the Cavs looked like a different team from 3-point range and it was a totally different outcome. They went 9-of-17 on triples in the first half alone and finished 17-of-34. Thusly, they won easily 116-86 to pull within 2-1 in the series.

OK, it was a little more complicated than that. But Cleveland, urged by coach Ty Lue to elevate its general pace, predictably played with more urgency with the season effectively on the line.

In the early going the Cavaliers were spurred by George Hill, who had been terrible in the games in Boston including having zero rebounds or assists in Game 1 and being part of the 41-3 thrashing in scoring the Celtics’ starting backcourt put on the Cavs in Game 2.

Hill scored the game’s first basket on a drive and then picked up Terry Rozier full court on defense, defining the difference in the Cavs’ mentality in a matter of moments after the tip. Then he hit three 3-pointers and ended up with 13 points in the first half, the most he’s scored in a half in a Cavs uniform.

LeBron James was naturally a part of it as he operated with much more ease as the Celtics’ defense had to extend to cover the 3-point shooting. He had 19 points and six assists in the first half as the Cavs built a huge lead. He ended with 27 points and 12 assists, making 8 of 12 shots.

When James runs up those assist totals and doesn’t need as many shots the Cavs are clicking … and probably making 3-pointers. But he was also nicely engaged defensively, setting the tone early on by blocking a couple of shots and showing needed activity.

The Celtics shot just 38 percent in three quarters before garbage time commenced as they lacked the movement and vigor of the games in Boston. None of their key contributors was active, especially the backcourt of Rozier and Jaylen Brown, who were a combined 8-of-20 shooting.

All five Cavs starters scored in double figures and Kyle Korver came off the bench and made all four of his 3-pointers, which summed up the evening in a number of ways.

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