|5 things we learned as LeBron James, Cavaliers push Celtics to brink||04.23.15 at 9:40 pm ET|
Different building, same script.
Trailing by three late in the fourth quarter, the Celtics had a chance to tie Game 3 at home, but failed to corral an offensive rebound, and Kevin Love made them pay with a wide-open 3-pointer with 2:13 remaining. And once again, the C’s submitted an inspired effort, but had no answer for LeBron James, who amassed 31 points and 11 rebounds in a 103-95 victory that gave his Cavaliers a 3-0 series lead.
The Celtics‘ last opportunity to avoid a sweep comes in Game 4 at the Garden on Sunday afternoon.
On Thursday, Evan Turner enjoyed his best game of the series, collecting 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but failed to match a dominant performance by the game’s greatest active player. Jae Crowder added 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench, and Avery Bradley scored 18, albeit on 18 shots. Jared Sullinger (10 points, 8 rebounds) was the only other Celtic in double figures. After scoring 22 points in each of his first two playoff appearances, Isaiah Thomas finished with only five points on 2-of-9 shooting.
For a complete box score, click here.
In the first 1:18, LeBron James got to the rim with ease on back-to-back possessions, giving the Cavaliers an early 4-0 lead. After an uncontested 3-pointer from Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov beat Tyler Zeller on the block twice in a row — dunking over the C’s center and driving around him for an uncontested layup. A third drive to the basket delivered Cleveland a 15-10 lead and forced the first Celtics timeout.
|Even down 2-0, Brad Stevens very confident in his Celtics: ‘We just have to be a little bit tighter’||04.21.15 at 11:28 pm ET|
Brad Stevens sounded an cautious yet optimistic tone Tuesday night after his team dropped a 99-91 decision to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena that put his Celtics in a 2-0 series hold heading back to Boston for Game 3 Thursday night.
“We have another game to play,” Stevens said. “We have another game to prepare for. We have to prepare to the best of our ability. We’ve been of a collective mindset of the only day that matters is today and you move on to what’s next. I know that gets really old to hear but I think it’s the only way to live and certainly the only way to live in this business and it allows you to keep your focus on the task at hand.”
For the second straight game, the Celtics managed to outscore the Cavaliers after one quarter, leading 16-8 at one point. They were hanging tough heading into halftime in both games. Tuesday, they trailed by just one, 51-50, at the break. But in each of the first two games, Boston has laid a collective egg in the third quarter. Tuesday, they were outscored 17-4 out of the halftime break. The Celtics battled back but could never completely climb out of the hole.
“They came out both times very good but we were very poor at the start of the third,” Stevens said. “Both times I thought we were slow coming out of the gates for whatever reason. Again, they’re going to have their runs but their runs can’t become 9-0, 11-0, 13-0 or whatever it is. We’ve got to stop them at five or six and make it a 5-2 run or a 7-4 run. Easier said than done. Everybody glorifies the guy who makes the last-second shot. But the guy who can stop a run, that’s big-time toughness. We’ve got to be able to do that a little bit better and we’ve got guys in our room capable of doing that.
“Nobody has ever played a perfect basketball game, right? But you’re on a quest to play perfect in what you can control. We were good but we weren’t near good enough. But we did play better in a lot of ways. This team will compete and I feel pretty comfortable saying we’ll compete. We just have to be a little bit tighter. And that’s because of the game demands that and it’s also because our opponent is awfully good.”
The Celtics were downright dominant on the offensive glass in the first half, holding a 7-1 edge and outscoring Cleveland 12-2 in second chance points. But that changed drastically in the second half, as the Cavs outscored the Celtics 16-4 in second chance points and 9-4 on the offensive glass.
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The Celtics achieved almost everything they set out to do in Game 2 — as Avery Bradley terrorized Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers shot just 24.1 percent from 3-point range and the C’s out-rebounded Cleveland on the offensive glass — and yet they still lost by eight.
Despite all that went right for the Celtics, they still had no answer for LeBron James, who finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in a 99-91 victory that gave the Cavaliers a 2-0 series lead. Even with Bradley all over him, Irving managed 26 points, six assists and five boards, spoiling what may have been the C’s best chance for a win.
“Obviously, they’re great players,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said in his postgame press conference. “I thought we challenged Kyrie a little bit better. He’s a hard one because he gets fouled on some of those jump shots. That’s tough, but he’s a really explosive ball-handler and scorer. And when LeBron just puts his shoulder down and wants to get to where he wants to go, it’s hard to stop him from getting there. But I thought our guys actually did a pretty good job on different plays. … Those guys are hard to stop, but that’s why we can’t start the third quarter slowly and that’s why we’ve got to finish plays. That’s why every issue we’re having is magnified.”
For a complete box score, click here.
BRINGING THE ENERGY
Midway through the first quarter, Brandon Bass wrestled an offensive rebound from Tristan Thompson and LeBron James, and then kicked it out to an open Marcus Smart, who knocked down a 3-pointer that pushed the Celtics‘ lead to 16-8 and forced the Cavs’ first timeout. It was indicative of a tremendous early effort by the Celtics. They matched their Game 1 total of seven offensive boards in the first quarter of Game 2 and added eight points off five Cleveland turnovers in the opening 12 minutes, taking a 26-25 lead after one.
|J.R. Smith compares Avery Bradley to Kobe Bryant, and not in a good way||04.20.15 at 2:58 pm ET|
Granted, Sunday’s game between the Cavaliers and Celtics was questionably officiated, but J.R. Smith hardly has a case he didn’t deserve all four of his fouls — and maybe even more. But that didn’t stop the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year from complaining.
What did J.R. Smith learn during 4-foul, 19-minute game? “Don’t touch Avery Bradley. Apparently he’s like Kobe now, so I can’t touch him.”
‘ Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 19, 2015
So, apparently Smith thinks Avery Bradley is getting superstar treatment, which is … interesting … since the Celtics guard attempted all of zero free throws, and Smith somehow still managed to complain after trucking Kelly Olynyk like a linebacker.
|Lou Williams wins Sixth Man over Isaiah Thomas||at 12:57 pm ET|
Williams received 78 of the 130 possible first-place votes from a panel of sportswriters. His 34 second-place votes and 10 third-place votes gave him a total of 502 points. Meanwhile, Thomas received 33 first-place votes, 46 second-place votes and 21 third-place votes for a total of 324 points — the second-highest total in the voting.
Williams appeared on 122 of 130 ballots, as Jamal Crawford (131 points), Andre Iguodala (100), Tristan Thompson (33), Nikola Mirotic (24), Marreese Speights (20), Corey Brewer (12), Manu Ginobili (12), Taj Gibson (8), Aaron Brooks (1), Chris Kaman (1), Anthony Morrow (1) and Dennis Schroder (1) all received votes. How 30 writers left Thomas off the ballot entirely is a mystery.
We’ve already covered in great deal why Thomas deserved the award over Williams, so we won’t get too far into the weeds here, except to say Thomas averaged more points, assists and rebounds while shooting better from everywhere on the floor and submitting a superior player efficiency rating.
|Irish Coffee: Should Jae Crowder start against LeBron James?||at 12:36 pm ET|
Game 1 went pretty much according to script for the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose big three combined for 69 points, 13 assists and five offensive rebounds in a 113-100 victory. And while the Celtics did a decent job of containing LeBron James, they enjoyed much greater success with Jae Crowder defending the four-time NBA MVP than starting wing Evan Turner.
So, should Celtics coach Brad Stevens consider starting Crowder over Turner in Game 2? Based on the evidence from their first showing in Cleveland, Stevens must at least play Crowder with greater regularity opposite James in the superstar’s 40-plus minutes.
LeBron played a total of 42 minutes in Cleveland’s Game 1 victory, and Crowder only shared the court with him for roughly half of that time period (20.2). Now, consider this number: The Celtics were 38.7 points per 100 possessions better with Crowder opposite LeBron than with their hard-nosed forward on the bench, according to NBA.com/stats.
In 20.2 minutes with Crowder on the floor, LeBron was a minus-7 against the C’s, finishing 3-for-8 from the field (0-for-4 from mid-range) to go along with four assists and four turnovers. In 21.8 minutes with Crowder on the bench, James was a plus-10, going 5-for-10 (5-for-5 in the paint) with three assists and one turnover. Granted, that’s a limited sample size, but the eye test bears out a similar discrepancy.
Let’s first examine each of LeBron’s eight shot attempts with Crowder on the floor.
|Tale of the Tape: Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers||04.18.15 at 8:00 am ET|
So, Celtics play-by-play man Mike Gorman picked them to win their first-round series against the Cavaliers in six games, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge responded, “Well, he had some pretty good evidence,” and we all had a good laugh about the C’s 40-to-1 odds to win the series.
Truth is, the Celtics aren’t going to push this series beyond five games, right? … Right? … I mean, it’s not like Brad Stevens has a history of taking Cinderella to the big dance or anything … RIGHT? OK, I’m going to talk myself into this thing if I don’t look at some cold hard facts real soon, so let’s do this.
The Cavs weren’t really the Cavs until acquiring Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in early January, adding the defense and 3-point shooting that helped LeBron James achieve legendary status in Miami. And the Celts weren’t really the Celts until acquiring Isaiah Thomas, Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome at the Feb. 19 trade deadline, adding the scoring punch and lineup flexibility that helped Stevens achieve wizardry status. So, in the interest of fairness, any tale of the tape for these two teams should start with a completely arbitrary date between their current story arcs. Let’s say Feb. 3.
[Editor’s Note: Just kidding. Feb. 3 totally isn’t arbitrary. It’s the date that makes Boston look best agains Cleveland, because otherwise a tale of the tape between them would be like asking the late great Manute Bol to pose for a photo alongside Muggsy Bogues. And who would do such a thing?]
Here we go. All of the per-game and advanced statistics below were culled from NBA.com/stats.
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