Cleveland Answered the Bell, Now It's On C's To Respond
CLEVELAND – LeBron James said following Game 2 that the Cavs would find out what they were made of come Saturday night. Apparently, they’re made of more than what they showed in Boston during Games 1 and 2.
Cleveland pulled to within 2-1 in the series with a resounding 116-86 win Saturday night, a win that was marked by a level of balance that was nonexistent for the Cavs during the opening two games in Boston. There wasn’t a member of the Cavs who didn’t play well during this contest.
LeBron James again led the way for Cleveland with his game-high totals of 27 points and 12 assists, but George Hill and J.R. Smith finally joined the series to boost the Cavaliers.
Hill paced the Cavs out of the gates by scoring or assisting on their first nine points. He finished with 13 points on the night, 11 of which were scored during the opening frame.
Smith, meanwhile, entered the game having missed all seven of his 3-point attempts during the series, but he cashed in on three of his four treys Saturday night while scoring 11 points - seven more than he had scored during the first two games of the series combined.
All five of Cleveland’s starters scored in double-figures, as did Kyle Korver off the bench (14 points). The Cavs also made 17 3-pointers on 50 percent shooting as a team. They received only five total double-digit efforts from their players during the first two games in Boston.
“I thought offensively we moved it around a little bit more, had a lot of assists,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said after the game, alluding to Cleveland’s 23 assists on the night. “I thought J.R. and G-Hill did a good job of setting the tone early, being aggressive, playing with more pace, more force.”
Those qualities allowed Cleveland to build a 19-point lead during the first quarter and to take a 20-point advantage into halftime. Still, some thought that Boston would make a run, seeing as it is well known for its dramatic, double-digit comeback wins this season.
However, Brad Stevens knows his team as well as anyone, and he could tell early on Saturday night that Game 3 was unlikely to feature a comeback for the ages.
“We were clearly not the harder-playing, more connected team tonight,” he said. “Cleveland was, and they deserve all the credit for that.”
After controlling the first two games of the series, Boston now faces its first adversity since playing Game 7 against Milwaukee during the first round. Coincidentally, the Celtics also gained a 2-0 series advantage against the Bucks before losing by 24 points on the road during Game 3.
Al Horford acknowledged that having such experience is helpful, and that Saturday’s drubbing should serve as a reminder to his team of what’s required to win in the Playoffs.
“We're learning from the experiences, we're moving on,” Horford said. “And it just shows when you don't bring it as a team and you don't play the way you're supposed to play, these kind of things can happen.”
Added Terry Rozier, “We needed to get our butts whooped, come back to reality.”
The reality now is that the Celtics are facing a much more dangerous Cleveland team that has its role players feeling good about themselves heading into Game 4. Hill, Smith, Korver, Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. all played great basketball Saturday night.
Stevens suggested after the game that the above crop of players, coupled with James and Kevin Love, may force the C’s to adjust their rotation for Game 4 and beyond.
“Right now, with the way that [the Cavs are] playing,” he said, “we're going to need some other guys to be ready to go come Monday.”
Those players weren’t ready during Game 4. The Cavaliers, however, were.
After falling behind by two games in the series, Cleveland showed what it was made of Saturday night.
Come Monday night, it will be Boston’s turn to do so as it looks to overcome its latest bout with adversity and regain control of this best-of-seven series.