NBA Playoff Recap - Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 3
(1) Cleveland 124, (4) Boston 95 - Cavs lead series, 2-1
LeBron James was hurt. LeBron James was rattled. The Cleveland Cavaliers were shaken. The Boston Celtics believed.
A lot of hyperbole got tossed around after Game 2 of the NBA's Eastern Conference semifinals. With two teams tied at one game apiece, the underdog received far too much praise and credit, while the favorite's predicament was grossly exaggerated. Sure, the Boston Celtics had taken home-court advantage away from the Eastern Conference's best regular-season team, but then again, the Celtics had lost 17 games at home in the 2009-2010 campaign. The Beantowners had to hold serve in Game 3 of this contentious clash before they could claim a legitimate upper hand. Boston needed to forge a 2-1 series advantage in order to cause a crisis for the Cavaliers.
They didn't do so. Moreover, they didn't even come close, a sure indication that praise from the punditocracy was very premature.
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If Cleveland collapsed in the third quarter of Monday's Game 2, when Boston uncorked a 31-12 blitzkrieg that left the Cavs in shock, the tables were turned quite quickly on Friday at TD Garden. LeBron - with an elbow that isn't injured enough to be considered a real handicap - scored 21 points in the first quarter, outscoring the entire Boston team by four. Cleveland romped to a 36-17 lead after one period thanks to King James' excellence and, on the other side of the divide, an 0-for-5 start by pancake-flat Celtic forward Paul Pierce. Before this game had any chance to generate an increased level of drama, LeBron and his mates put the clamps down and gave the locals no reason to get involved. Boston's Game 2 runaway was thoroughly decisive. If humanly possible, this beatdown was exponentially more anticlimactic.
Cleveland built a 65-43 halftime lead, cracked the 30-point mark in the second half, and coasted home for a 29-point win that few people could have anticipated. James was on pace for 84 points after one period, but he "settled" for "only" 38 on the evening. Teammate Antawn Jamison poured in 20 while snatching 12 rebounds, and the Cavs - as a team - shot 59.5 percent from the floor (44 of 74). Three Cleveland players - Shaquille O'Neal, Anthony Parker, and Delonte West - combined to hit 14 of 18 shots as the Cavs received blended production once LeBron's showstopping first quarter ended.
As for Boston, the Celtics simply never got going, which was surprising considering the fact that this increasingly old team - a team which had been plagued by injuries during the season and looked healthier than it had in some time - gained three full days of rest after Game 2. Boston figured to be fresh, but instead, the C's pulled a face-plant on a night when they needed to seize legitimate control of the series... control they hadn't yet earned heading into Friday's game.
Game 4 now becomes a huge swing game. Will Cleveland use this as the point of no return, or will Boston continue to create a wild, pendulum-swinging, up-and-down battle in this East semifinal showdown?
Stay tuned... it could all be over in the first quarter, at least if Game 3 is any indication.
By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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