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Random dribbles following the Cavaliers 116-86 needed hammer job of a win over the visiting Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday.
1. When the ball moves and the Cavs play with great energy, these are the things that can happen. The Cavs raced to open spots, LeBron James found his teammates, and the shots went down. It turned this game into what the entire series should be — a total mismatch.
2. You hear it all the time and it’s true — role players typically play better at home. That has undoubtedly been the case with the Celtics, basically an entire team of role players. Meanwhile, the Cavs finally got some nice things from people other than just James (27 points, 12 assists) and Kevin Love (13 points, 14 rebounds).
3. This was James’ best passing game of the entire postseason. A few of his dishes were of the highlight-reel variety. If he continues to find open teammates as he did Saturday, this series is over, the Cavs’ current 2-1 deficit be darned.
4. George Hill came out on fire and finished with 13 points. J.R. Smith scored 11 with 3-of-4 shooting on 3-pointers. Tristan Thompson added a very underrated 10 points and seven boards. And those were just the starters.
5. In reserve, Kyle Korver gave the type of showing that again proved when he gets cookin’, the Cavs are good lookin’. He went for 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting, and 4-of-4 on threes.
6. Better yet, Korver and Larry Nance Jr. (eight points) combined for 9-of-9 shooting off the bench. So at home, the Cavs “other” players did what they couldn’t do on the road. They made shots and it made them play better in basically every other area.
7. Meanwhile, James’ 27 points came off 12 shots. That, folks, is efficiency. He went 3-of-3 on threes and 8-of-10 from the line.
8. The Cavs combined for a miserable 14-of-57 on threes in the two games in Boston. On Saturday, they went 17-of-34. They truly have become a team that lives and dies with the long ball. They lived gloriously in Game 3.
9. Along with all that, the Cavs were as active defensively as any point this season — regular season or postseason. They seemed to do a lot more gambling, going for steals and stepping in passing lanes, then recovering and rotating nicely. And if LeBron has played better D in the playoffs, I sure can’t remember it.
10. LeBron on the win: “Even when things broke down, we just covered for one another. 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.”
11. This one was so easy, it’s hard to take issue with Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, as so many fans like to do (and often, rightfully so). But I like how Lue managed the game. He kept the main players on the floor even when the Cavs’ lead swelled to more than 20. The Cavs needed to bury Boston, and these are the conference finals. No time to rest at this time of year.
12. Lue wanted his team to force the tempo and play a more physical brand of basketball. For the most part, the Cavs accomplished both.
13. Back to the defense. Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum (18 points, 6-of-10 shooting) has killed the Cavs all series and they couldn’t stop him on this night, either. Honestly, they simply cannot guard the guy. But they did do a great job of removing Celtics forward Jaylen Brown from the game. Brown had been killing the Cavs, too — but got in foul trouble and had to fight for every last one of his 10 measly points.
14. The better news? The series stays in Cleveland, with Game 4 set for Monday. Win that one and suddenly the series is tied at 2-2 and the Cavs not only have LeBron, but some momentum as well.
15. That said, I still think the Cavs must be EVEN MORE physical as the series moves forward. Lue said the Celtics had been “gooning up the game,” and he’s right. They scratch, claw, bang … and dare the officials to make a call. It’s pretty evident they have the referees confused on what warrants a whistle and what does not. The playoffs aren’t just more difficult for the players and coaches. You can throw the refs in there, too.
16. Anyway, the Cavs have to a better job of making the Celtics “feel” their presence. They still have to toughen up and take the ball to the basket. I suspect Game 5 in Boston will basically determine the winner in this series.
17. For now, though, it’s on to Game 4, another must-win for the Cavs. Energy, ball movement, physicality. If the Cavs do all three again, they stand a good chance of not just winning that game, but getting out of this series alive.