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The non-LeBrons have been roughed up more than their fair share during these playoffs.
With an unaired Saturday Night Live skit being the biggest example, everyone not named LeBron James, save for a bit of Kevin Love, has been lampooned from pillar to post across the NBA landscape.
That all ended Saturday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics as five of the non-LeBrons reached double figures and seven scored eight points or more in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 116-86 slobberknocker of a win Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
With the non-LeBrons accounting for 89 points, ignited by an 11-point, three 3-pointer first quarter by point guard George Hill, Cleveland put up its most impressive performance in its 14 playoff games this spring.
And no one was more appreciative than James.
“If you’re able to get four, five, six guys in double-figures, most of the time that team is gonna win,” James said.
While he and Love have been portrayed as pretty much a two-man team in terms of offense, anyway, in this series, that certainly wasn’t the case in Game 3.
“You guys always talk about us taking pressure off (role players),” he said of him and Love. “They took pressure off us tonight.”
While James led the way with 27 points, he needed only a dozen shots to get there. He also contributed five rebounds and 12 assists and two steals and was clearly much more active on the defensive end, his two emphatic blocked shots being at the fore. James’ activity on defense seemed to inspire his teammates.
“Overall, across the board, we just did a better job getting in the passing lanes and overall did a better job contesting shots,” said Love, who had 13 points a game-high 14 boards (twice the amount of Boston’s top rebounder in the game, Al Horford) and four assists. “They didn’t feel us in Game 1 or 2 and we did a better job of that tonight.”
The aforementioned Hill matched Love with 13 points and added three rebounds, two assists and a steal. J.R. Smith had 11 points and five rebounds and Tristan Thompson contributed 10 points and seven boards to round out Cleveland’s starting five, which outscored its Boston counterparts, 74-57.
Kyle Korver contributed 14 points, nailing 4-of-4 from deep, off the bench, while Jordan Clarkson had nine points in 18 points, hoisting 11 shots, and Larry Nance Jr. was tremendously active, contributing eight points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals in 21 energetic minutes. While Clarkson shot just 3-of-11, Korver and Nance were perfect, posting a 9-for-9 shooting performance.
“We had our focus,” James said. “Offensively and defensively, we made plays.
“We were really good.”
Hill brining the basketball up the floor was another huge benefit to Cleveland. James’ usage rate in Games 1 and 2 was 40.8 percent. Saturday night, it was only 23.2 percent, actually second on the team to Love’s 26.6 percent.
It led to more Cavaliers being involved, setting the tone for what proved to be a romp, piling up 116 points against the best defensive team in the league.
“It was a really good defensive game for us, from front to back,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “Offensively, we were moving around a lot more and had a lot of assists. … I thought we played an all-around game tonight, defensively and offensively.”
Halfway through the first quarter, the Boston had more turnovers than field goals. For the game, the Celtics finished with 15 turnovers, compared to only 16 assists. Conversely, Cleveland had 23 assists on 37 buckets.
“Even when things broke down, we just covered for one another,” James said. “We made them make extra passes. We made them make extra dribbles. We were flying around, and I just happened to be one of the guys on the floor that wanted to fly around as well.”
With James firing passes to shooters, who knocked down 17 of 34 from deep, or to Thompson or Nance for dunks, Boston simply had no answers.
“We can’t give up dunks,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “Obviously, some of the threes that (James) sprays out for are tremendous. There’s only one person that can make passes going to his left like that in the league. But we gotta do a better job with our help and with all of our coverage.
“We were clearly not the harder-competing, more-connected team tonight,” Stevens continued. “Right now, with the way they’re playing, we’re going to need some other guys to be ready to go come Monday,” Stevens said of the Cavaliers and Game 4.
Which is music to the ears of James.
“I also have to inspire my teammates to be better,” James said. “They answered the call tonight, and they need to answer the phone another time on Monday.”