Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cavaliers 103 - Celtics 95: Love comes up big against C's [CLE lead series 3-0]

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Boston - The Celtics were looking to avoid a 0-3 series deficit to Cleveland on Thursday night and let their fans see at least a fifth game. Despite a not so great performance from all-star Kyrie Irving, the C's second half rally just fell short to LeBron James. The Cavs are now one game away from advancing to the Eastern Conference semi-finals as they won 103-95 in Game 3 at the TD Garden.

James, in his first playoff game in Boston since April of 2012, led all scorers with 31 points on 13-of-26 shooting, while grabbing 11 rebounds. Kevin Love finally had a breakout game, hitting two-crucial 3-pointers in the last minute of the fourth, finishing with 23 points to go along with his 9 rebounds. J.R. Smith added 15 points, and Irving struggled with 13 points (3-of-11 from the field) and 6 assists in the win.

Evan Turner scored 19 points to lead four Celtics in double-figures, the swingman also had 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Avery Bradley chipped in 18 points on 18 shot attempts, while Jae Crowder contributed nicely off the bench with 16 points and 7 rebounds in the lost that has the C's now on the verge of elimination being down three-games to none.

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Despite the Celtics being in control for much of the first half, they took a 48-44 lead with 40 seconds remaining in the second quarter. James scored six of the final 12 points of the period as the C's went scoreless in a 12-0 Cleveland run. The Cavaliers led 56-48 at intermission, and never forfeited their lead the rest of the game.

Boston tied it up at 56-56 after opening up the second half on an 8-0 run, their best third quarter of the series. Despite both teams and their mini-spurts, the Cavs lead 77-66 with four minutes left. The Celtics would once again battle back but were still down 84-76 going into the final frame.

With the C's down five with 2:45 left, Evan Turner hit a top of the key 3-ball to cut Cleveland's lead 95-92, the closest they had been in the fourth, only to have Love hit a dagger-3 of his own seconds later on an Tristan Thompson (12 points, 7 rebounds) offensive board, followed by another Love 3-pointer, this time in the right-hand corner. That would be the icing on the cake for the Cavaliers who were in control 101-93 with 26 seconds remaining, to pretty much take a 3-0 series lead.

The Celtics didn't lose the overall battle on the glass in Game 3 (45-45), but did when it came to the offensive rebounds (11-9) that lead to second chance points (mainly un-contested 3-pointers), and of course turnovers (15-11), which lead to 20 points for the Cavs, costing the C's a chance to win on Thursday. Much like in the previous two games, Cleveland took over the second half and Boston was left playing catch up.

The difference this time around was Irving never got going, and Timofey Mozgov was taken out of the game completely (5 points, 6 rebounds in 19 minutes of action). But Love finally woke up (hitting 6-of-10 from downtown) and J.R. Smith (6-of-12 overall) was able to shoot their way back into LeBron's good graces, mostly on second chance opportunities. Plus not to mentioned out of Thompson's 7 rebounds, 5 were on the offensive end, so enough said.

What the C's need to continue to do is move the ball and find better shots, especially towards the rim, where they dominated 48-28 in the paint. These young Celtics are at their best when they make the extra pass. But they also need to keep the Cavs' rebounding in check, especially when they're on offense. If they also take care of the ball and limit turnovers, it's a better shot to win.

"You want to make sure that we play as well as possible for however many games we have left," coach Brad Stevens said.

Boston will look to extend their season at least a few more days as they face elimination come Sunday when they take on the Cavaliers in Game 4 at the Garden. Tip-off is a 1:00 EST on ABC.

Game Notes:

Cleveland shot (12-of-29), 41.4 percent from behind the arc, while Boston only hit (5-of-19) 26.3 percent of their 3's. Overall the Cavs shot 45 percent to the Celtics' 44 percent (hitting over 40% for the second time in the series). Isaiah Thomas, who had averaged 22 points and 8.5 assists in the first two games, managed just 5 points on 2-of-9 shooting in 21 minutes off the bench. Stevens was asked why was the point guard not brought back late in the fourth.

"They're paying him a lot of attention," the Celtics coach said. "For whatever reason, he was having an off night."

Joel Pavón
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