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.