Recap: Celtics play for pride, but sadly–WAIT, AVERY BRADLEY WON THE GAME (REPEAT 5,000x)

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Three

Do the Boston Celtics have a glacier’s chance in hell against the Cleveland Cavaliers without Isaiah Thomas? (Did they really in the first place?) It seemed more likely that David Lynch would announce a career shift into glitch-hop. Actually, that’s not that implausible. ANYWAY. No matter what the forecast was, the Celtics crawled back with stops and threes and notched a thrilling upset victory.


I think that Kevin Love is an extremely good and occasionally great NBA player. This was evidenced by his merciless barrage of threes in the first quarter and some of the second. I do not think that him blocking Al Horford exactly once and having blocked Stephen Curry in a Finals game that the Cavs had basically sewn up redeems any of his status as a defensive liability (a narrative that appears to be advancing among some on Twitter, and not just Cavs homers). Regardless, he kicked the Cs’ asses so mercilessly right from the opening tip, enough to all but invalidate the increased comfort that Boston showed in their passing and offense throughout most of the half.

It’s not rocket science to state that the Cavs are better than the Celtics–it’s indisputable fact. How much better is a question with a shifting answer, as this game’s first half showed: On one hand, Cleveland’s shooting, rebounding and LeBron Jamesing are nearly without peer in this whole league. On the other, the team remains legitimately atrocious on defense in the Tyronn Lue era and haven’t been made to pay for it, aside from one first-round half of basketball in Indiana that didn’t even end up fucking mattering.

As such, the Celtics were, at no point during the first half, down as bad as they were during the majority of Games 1 and 2. Boston got the open shots Cleveland readily allows and made them at a better clip than they have this whole series–but not enough of them; especially not when Cleve shot 60 percent from the field and 63.6 (jesus) from three compared to Boston’s 44 percent on FGs and 39 percent from past the arc. (Half of Cleveland’s 14 threes came from Love.)

Probably not sustainable for Cleveland, and it wouldn’t be impossible for Boston to make it interesting in the second half–but does it matter when the home team has a 66-50 lead and a 2-0 series advantage at the break? Of the team’s non-I.T. offensive threats, Horford couldn’t get in rhythm at all and Bradley shot decently to the tune of 12 points–and that won’t cut it against this Cavs team.

The Celtics got a number of good looks and drives in the first two minutes of the game’s third quarter, but only capitalized on one, a last-second Horford fadeaway jumper. The Cavs’ cooled-off shooting didn’t stop them much either–how could it, when the refs were calling fouls in Cleveland’s favor when Boston so much as breathed angrily in their direction? (Boston is not known for countless trips to the line without I.T., but 19 FTAs by Cleveland to 4 by Boston at the frame’s is a nearly impossible result, all things being equal–Marcus Smart drove and drew contact about 4 times and didn’t get a call.)

For every step forward Boston made, Cleveland either made two or caught lucky breaks. Most frequently the former–I’m biased and write for a fan-oriented blog, but I’m not blind. Yet the breaks the Cavs did get clearly weighed on the Cs and frustrations boiled over at times, as when Amir Johnson basically socked Love in the stomach after a Love rebound or when Bradley exchanged insults with Kyrie Irving midway through Q3 and had to be separated. This team is fully cognizant of the media spotlight, and are anticipating, like I am, the Boston radio/newspaper narrative and pedantry from countless basketball blogs.

Of all people, Marcus Smart fueled the closest thing the Celtics had to a run in the game thus far–a massive run, considering how the games have gone–with a series of made threes, and Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko also pitched in, and suddenly the Cs were within single digits. Missed shots by Kyrie and goonery-type mistakes by J.R. Smith (live by the J.R., die by the J.R.) didn’t help matters. At the end of Q3, I wasn’t ready to say there was hope, but being down 5 (87-82 Cavaliers) is a lot better than being down 50!

The Marcus Smart show did not stop during the fourth–if anything, it picked up steam for him on both ends. Jerebko decided to fulfill Smart’s designated defensive pest mode, rattling both Kyle Korver and Deron Williams into mistakes. (Re: the Cavs letting this happen–it’s amazing what happens when a shooting streak ends and goes extremely cold.) An Olynyk finger roll layup gave the Celtics their first lead of the game, but J.R. quickly erased it, and Tristan Thompson’s accursed offensive rebounding kept getting either second-chance points or trips to the charity stripe, where Thompson has gotten competent all of a sudden (he’s a season-long 50 percent FT shooter).

Boston wanted this game more–that was and is clear regardless of the game’s ultimate result. While Cleveland in many circumstances would probably let Boston have this one and finish them off later, LeBron knows a thing or two about improbable comebacks and wasn’t going to let that happen in a Conference Finals without a fight. When J.R. snuck a three in due to an awful miscue on D by Jae Crowder to retie the game, it seemed like the comeback was unlikely–and then Jerebko scored a 2 (looked like a 3, but whatever) and retook the lead again.

With half a minute left, Boston defended reasonably well on Cleveland’s final possession–not well enough to prevent Kyrie’s outstanding reverse layup, but enough to make them shoot earlier than they would’ve liked and leave 10.7 seconds for Brad Stevens to take a timeout.

And then it happened. A series of crossfire-hurricane passes and Smart got the ball in Bradley’s hands for a last-second three that somehow fell into the cylinder and secured a 111-108 Celtics victory. I don’t know how to process this, but I’m not complaining.

Recap: Celtics play for pride, but sadly--WAIT, AVERY BRADLEY WON THE GAME (REPEAT 5,000x)

I already discussed this, so I won’t belabor further: A 36 to 12 free-throw disparity is kind of ridiculous even when accounting for LeBron’s superstar calls (which are earned; he’s LeBron fucking James). But whatever. The Celtics could’ve done more to earn calls too; it wasn’t some deep dark conspiracy.

Recap: Celtics play for pride, but sadly--WAIT, AVERY BRADLEY WON THE GAME (REPEAT 5,000x)

Is there any other possible candidate?


Avery “WON THE GAME” Bradley: 20-3-4 on kind of a bad shooting line (33 percent), but…you know.

Marcus “Smarf” Smart: Stepping up in a way I honestly didn’t expect given his uneven playoffs, Smart’s 27-5-7-2-1 line, with only one turnover and 7-10 on threes (!!) showed promising confidence in the moment and cemented that all things considered, he’s nearly if not entirely a starting-caliber guard in this league.

Box score

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