No matter how impressive the Celtics looked in the first two games of this series, we all knew that the “Cleveland LeBrons” weren’t going to get swept. But what I don’t think many of us saw coming was the 116-86 shellacking that the Cavs (fine, I admit the “other Cavs” did enough to earn their team name back) put on the Celtics. Now, the Boston leads the series 2-1, and we truly have a series on our hands. This game resuscitated the Cavs’ chances to make their fourth straight Finals appearance — not least of all because the “other Cavs” showed up.
There’s an old adage in the NBA that role players play better at home. This series has been the ultimate indicator of that. Five Cavs other than LeBron scored in double figures, matching their total from the first two games combined. I created a stat called NLPs, or Non-LeBron Points, and through the first two games, the Cavs averaged 60 NLPs, whereas last night, they put up 89 NLPs, nearly a 50% increase.
LeBron still led all scorers with 27, but it was an efficient 27 on just 12 shot attempts. This allowed him to expend a lot more effort on defense. He had two steals and two blocks and just generally made his presence felt on that side of the floor. He’s had to take on such a burden on offense this year that his defense has slipped a bit, but last night was he was in rare form. If the Cavs want to win this series, they’ll have to get similar contributions from the rest of their team especially on the road. Ty Lue proved that he still doesn’t trust a non-LeBron lineup as James still played 38 minutes and didn’t come out for good until there were seven minutes left in the fourth, despite the fact that the result was never in question.
Boston’s inexperience is becoming a problem
The Celtics, it should be said, are still a young team. With all of the success they’ve had in the playoffs thus far, it’s tough to remember that half of Boston’s regular rotation aren’t old enough to rent a car yet. I fully expected the Cavs to come o
ut and punch the Celtics in the mouth to start the game, but what I didn’t expect was the Celtics to not even try to get back up. They never made a run to even entertain the idea that a comeback was possible. Early in the game, Brad Stevens dug deep into his rotation and brought in both Guerschon Yabusele and Greg Monroe to try to provide a spark. I think at that point Stevens knew that the game would be over if the Celtics didn’t stop the bleeding. (They didn’t, and it was).
You could tell that the quartet of Brown, Tatum, Rozier, and Smart weren’t well equipped to cope with such a huge deficit on the road. Once the Cavs started running away with it, their shot selection became questionable with a lot of isolations and pull-ups early in the shot clock. Their only real veteran presence is Al Horford, and he was neutralized for most of the game only taking four shots. (I know Marcus Morris is 28. But if you’re looking to him to provide veteran leadership, you’re in trouble.) The Celtics still hold home-court and a 2-1 lead, but this game may have planted a seed of doubt into their young core.