The Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals after a collapse in Game 2. Cleveland was well in control of the game with a 61-52 lead with 10 minutes to go in the third quarter when Boston exploded with a 55-33 finishing kick that gave the Celtics a 107-94 win and a 2-0 lead in the series.
The defense was crucial for Boston. The Celtics challenged all but three of Cleveland’s 39 field goal attempts in the second half while the Cavs gifted Boston 20 uncontested shots. As a result, the Celtics outscored the Cavs 59-39 to pull away in the last 22 minutes of Game 2.
LeBron James had his 4th 40 point game of the playoffs, the most he’s had in a single postseason. He also recorded his third 40-point triple double but his herculean effort wasn’t enough to stop the rampaging Celtics.
With their backs against the proverbial wall, the Cavaliers hope that a longer break in between games and a change in venue will give them an opportunity to get back in the series. Let’s take a look at the odds, our preview and pick for Game 3 of the 018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
First and foremost, the Cavaliers need another big game from LeBron James. Of course, you can point to Game 2 and say that even a 40 point triple-double from the King won’t guarantee a Cavaliers win in the playoffs. That’s true but if you look closely at the entire 2018 postseason, Cleveland goes as far as where Bron can take them.
In Cleveland’s five losses in the current playoffs, James has averaged just 26.2 points per game. On the other hand, King James has averaged 37.8 points per game in their eight total victories through two rounds. He scored 30 or more points in six of those eight victories.
James had 10 free throw attempts in Game 2 and that’s the way to play for him: to take it strong where no one can stop him. However, he must convert his free throws in Game 3. LeBron also took 11 three-pointers in Game 2 and even if he was feeling it, that’s not where you want him to do his damage.
The biggest difference in Game 2 was the point differential from the team’s starting backcourt. While Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier lit up the TD Garden, Cleveland’s J.R. Smith and George Hill were almost non-existent.
Boston’s starting backcourt accounted for 41 points while Cleveland’s starting guards only scored a combined 3 points, making just 1/11 field goal attempts. If Cleveland wants to stay alive in the series, they don’t just have to limit Boston’s starting backcourt output, they must take and make their own shots too.
In Cleveland’s most recent home win ( Game 4 against Toronto ) Smith went 6-6 from the floor, 5-5 from downtown. Meanwhile, four of George Hill’s five double-digit scoring games in the current postseason have come at home so those are good signs for the Cavs.
The key for Boston will be maintaining their scoring balance. In Game 2 the Celtics put six players in double digits scoring with a seventh player in Aron Baynes scoring 9 points. In the series opener, Boston also had four players scoring in twin digits including three with at least 20 points.
This balance hasn’t just given Boston flexibility in running their offense but it has also given them the unpredictability that puts Cleveland’s defense at a loss, not knowing which particular player/s they have to stop in a particular game.
For instance, Boston had a different leading scorer in each of the quarters in Game 2 with Jaylen Brown scoring 14 points in the first quarter, Jayson Tatum putting up 9 points in the second quarter, Terry Rozier unloading 14 points in the third quarter and Big Al Horford finishing the Cavs with 8 big points in the final stanza.
Al Horford has been stellar for the Celtics in the playoffs. Not only has he increased his scoring average from 12.9 points per game to 17.1 points per game in the playoffs but he’s always come through for them in the clutch. Horford, Rozier, and Tatum rank in the Top 10 in clutch points per game for the 2018 playoffs.
Jayson Tatum has been nothing but spectacular in the postseason. Despite being a rookie, Tatum has averaged 18.1 points in the playoffs, far better than his 13.9 points per game scoring during the regular season. After reeling off seven straight 20 point games, Tatum’s production has dropped to 13.5 points per game in the Eastern Conference Finals. He must take more shots if Boston is to hold off Cleveland’s charge in Game 3.
Terry Rozier has struggled with his three-point shot as of late. Scary Terry has been shooting the three ball at a low 23.5% in his last five playoff games after shooting 43.8% in the first nine outings. With Cleveland expected to come out firing with their backs against the wall, Rozier must make his three-pointers in Game 3.
Teams down 0-2 in a playoff series have tough odds against them historically with only 19 out of 300 teams have come back to win the series. Since 2012, only five have achieved the feat but Cleveland is one of those, during the 2016 NBA Finals when they erased a 1-3 deficit to unseat the Golden State Warriors. But we’re not talking about the series yet as we are looking at just one game and that’s Game 3. That’s another story.
LeBron James has stared at a 0-2 playoff series deficit six times in his playoff career and history favors him in Game 3s. In those occasions, King James is 4-2 in Game 3s with his losses coming during the 2007 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs and last season against the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals. In Eastern Conference Finals play, LeBron James is 3-0 in Game 3s when down 0-2 in the series.
Down 0-2 may look daunting but given that the Celtics have home court advantage, all that they have done so far is hold court. So unless they win one on the road, that’s when it becomes a problem for the Cavs. With Game 3 set at the Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland has to feel good about their chances.
Cleveland has won five in a row at the Q in the current postseason after losing their opener against the Indiana Pacers at home. Meanwhile, while the Celtics have been unbeatable at their home court, they have not fared as well on the road. Boston is just 1-4 away from home in the 2018 NBA Playoffs. They lost all three games in Milwaukee in Round one and lost Game 3 to the Sixers in Philadelphia.
We still think that Boston has a good chance of winning the series ( -220 odds as of May 17th ). But if there’s a game where the Cavs have the best shot at winning, it’s Game 3. LeBron showed in Game 2 that he hasn’t slowed down yet. And if you take a look at Game 2 again, Cleveland was in control of the game for 26 minutes before collapsing. That isn’t likely to happen at home in a must-win game.
Give me LeBron James to have another big night and the Cleveland starting backcourt to bounce back. We’re picking the Cleveland Cavaliers to win Game 3 and make a series out of-of the Eastern Conference Finals.
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