BOSTON – LeBron James was riffing on Kevin Love when he went down a path he immediately realized was incorrect.
“He’s been highly criticized this year for I don’t know why,” LeBron said. “I know why. I know why. I know.”
Suddenly, it felt as if the room full of reporters all asked the follow-up question at once: “Why?”
“When you have a big three, they’ve got to find someone,” LeBron said. “When I was in Miami, Chris Bosh was that guy at one point. So, I know why. I’ve seen it before.
“They’ve got find somebody. And Kevin was the guy they tried to find and tried to tear him down. One thing about him, he’s always stayed positive. I’ve always believed in him. I don’t really get too involved in what everybody say. I know what type of player he is, what type of competitor he is.
“I know he relishes this opportunity to be a part of this franchise and to be a part of the postseason. So, with everything said the first eight months of the season, he’s definitely used that as motivation, I believe. I think he’s a big-time player. He’s a very cerebral basketball player. In order for us to be the team that we want to be long-term, Kevin is going to be Kevin.”
This is the most understanding of Love I’ve heard LeBron.
BOSTON – LeBron James saw Kyrie Irving, who’d just gotten decked while shooting, laying on the floor and wasn’t going to let anyone get in his way of helping up his teammate – including Jae Crowder, who stood directly between the two Cavaliers.
LeBron grabbed Crowder to move him out of the way, and Crowder took offense. LeBron looked at Crowder, pointed to a sprawled-out Irving and continued toward Irving while Evan Turner pushed LeBron.
The Celtics scratched and clawed and successfully limited Irving, but they couldn’t stop LeBron (31 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks) from lifting Cleveland to a 103-95 Game 3 win Thursday. Up 3-0 in his fourth playoff series against Boston, LeBron will seek his first sweep in Game 4 Sunday.
Asked the plan for defending LeBron, Crowder refused to divulge for a fear of giving LeBron helpful information.
“Because it’s definitely been working,” Turner said wryly.
Not only do the Celtics lack an answer for LeBron, they can’t limit enough of his teammates.
Kevin Love (23 points, nine rebounds and three assists) played a strong No. 2. J.R. Smith (15 points on 12 shots) broke out of his funk. And Tristan Thompson came up with timely offensive rebounds.
Even with Irving – who led Game 1 with 30 points and scored 26 in Game 2 – not making a shot until midway through the third quarter and finishing with just 13 points on 3-of-11 shooting, that was enough to best Boston.
Not that the Celtics made it easy.
Instead of LeBron’s old nemeses like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, it was Crowder, Turner and Avery Bradley providing resistance. But this group of Celtics, while pesky, couldn’t sustain it.
Boston gained momentum late in the first half. Cleveland ended it on a 12-0, capped by six straight LeBron points.
Brad Stevens opened the second half with Crowder and Jonas Jerebko instead of starters Marcus Smart and Brandon Bass, and the Celtics scored the third quarter’s first eight points to tie the game. A late 8-2 run featuring five Crowder points and Crowder assisting a Turner triple got Boston within three. The Celtics never led after halftime.
“We’ve got finishers on our team,” Cavaliers coach Blatt said.
Even when the Cavaliers were out of rhythm, LeBron isolated and scored. Boston – like most teams – just don’t anyone who can match what he does, which he rubbed in at one point:
“Boston’s not going away,” Blatt said. “They haven’t up to this point, and they won’t.”
That may be true.
But as long as Cleveland has LeBron, it probably doesn’t matter.
LeBron James offers unadulterated praise of Cavaliers coach David Blatt
But maybe their relationship has finally turned a corner.
LeBron on Blatt, via Brad Bournival of the Boston Herald
“He’s been great,” star forward LeBron James, the four-time NBA MVP, said. “He’s prepared us to go out and give us the best chance to win a ballgame. For us as players, we have to go out and do that.”
Announcement: Play one-day fantasy basketball tonight! Pro Basketball Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $150,000 league for Thursday’s NBA games. It’s just $2 to join and first place wins $10,000. Starts tonight at 7:00pm ET. Enter now!
This is big progress, and it comes at an important time. But winning cures all ills, and the Cavaliers – who lead their first-round series against the Celtics, 2-0 – have won a lot lately.
Will LeBron’s confidence in Blatt survive a few losses? What happens if Cleveland trails in a series?
The best answer is not to find out.
Blatt has improved as a coach since earlier in the season, which is to be expected from an NBA rookie. LeBron surely recognizes that, though he has always credited players over coaches more than most do (as his quote reflects). LeBron – playing with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and a solid support cast – doesn’t need Blatt to be a great coach. Not this early in the playoffs, at least.
But LeBron needs a cohesive team as the Cavaliers advance deeper, and the best way to achieve that is enabling Blatt. As long as LeBron supports the coach, everyone else should fall in line – and that makes winning a lot easier.
Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas starts the fast break by dribbling through Kevin Love’s legs (VIDEO)
As the Cavaliers began to take control of their Game 2 matchup with the Celtics, the only thing that was keeping Boston alive on the offensive end of the floor was the aggressive, crafty play of Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas led his team with 22 points and seven assists, and used this nifty bit of dribbling to get by Kevin Love — who has at least a foot of a height advantage over Thomas — to start one of his team’s fast breaks in the second half.