The Celtics pulled off a miracle Sunday night.
Avery Bradley’s 3-point shot spun on the back on the rim and fell through with 0.1 seconds left to lift the Celtics to a shocking 111-108 win over the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.
The win narrows Cleveland’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-7 series and snaps Cleveland’s 13-game record-tying playoff win streak.
Playing without Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury (and reportedly a right hip labrum tear that could require surgery), the Celtics overcame a 21-point second-half deficit.
Marcus Smart finished with 27 points on 7-of-10 3-point shooting. Game 4 will be Tuesday night in Cleveland before the series moves back to Boston for Game 5 Thursday.
“When it’s a big moment, you know that kid is going to rise to the occasion. He always has,” Brad Stevens said of Smart.
Just 48 hours after suffering the most embarrassing loss in their playoff history, the Celtics staged arguably the most unlikely playoff win ever.
“I really felt like in first half we played way better than the score.” Stevens said of his team’s 66-50 deficit. “I was hoping law of averages would kick in at some point. Some of those shots were just incredible. Started slow in third quarter. Our guys were better towards end of third, goes back and forth and we were lucky to win.”
The Celtics were down 77-56 before starting their epic comeback. LeBron James finished just 4-of-13 and 11 points in 45 minutes. The Cavaliers were just 2-for-17 in the second half.
Using a scorching first-half display from Kevin Love and another powerful effort from Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers seemed on their way to setting a new NBA playoff standard with their 14th consecutive postseason win while pulling within one game of the NBA finals for a third straight season and putting LeBron James in the finals for a seventh straight season.
The Celtics went with a starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson. Midway through the first quarter, Johnson had to go to the locker room with team doctor Brian McKeon after injuring his shoulder. Johnson would return to action in the second quarter.
The Cavaliers came out on fire from deep, hitting nine threes in the first quarter, a NBA playoff high this season for a quarter. Kevin Love was a one-man wrecking crew, draining five of his seven 3-point attempts, falling one shy of the NBA playoff mark for a single quarter set by Boston’s Antoine Walker in 2002 in the Game 3 against Philadelphia.
Overall, the Cavaliers hit 9-of-13 from deep to take a 35-24 lead after the first quarter. The Cavaliers were 11-0f-17 from the field in the first quarter and the nine threes were the most in the playoffs since Boston drilled nine against Philadelphia in the decisive Game 5 33-point blowout on May 3, 2002.
Down 44-29, the Celtics used a 7-0 run to cut the lead down to eight.
(For a full box score, click here.)
Love continued to kill the Celtics in the second, hitting two more threes and then with a minute to go, he took a handoff from J.R. Smith under the Cavs basket and executed a perfect length-of-the-court chest pass that dropped into the hands of LeBron James for a layup.
On the next possession, J.R. Smith hit an off-balance 3-pointer to give the Cavaliers their biggest lead at 66-48. There was simply not much the Celtics could do but shrug. The Cavaliers made exactly 60 percent of their shots (21-of-35) in the opening half. Love finished the first half making 7-of-10 from 3-point range and 22 points. James had just eight points and the Cavaliers still led, 66-50, at the half.
It was the most-competitive half of the series to this point in the series. The Cavaliers led by 22 points in at the half of Game 1 and 41 points in Game 2.
The Cavaliers quickly built their lead up to 20 points in the first two minutes of the third quarter before getting a bit sloppy. LeBron James had a layup at the rim and gave it up for a bounce pass in the paint for Tristan Thompson. It resulted in a turnover.
The Celtics were getting destroyed on the glass, giving up offensive rebound after offensive rebound and not getting many second-chance chances with the exception of a Kelly Olynyk put-back four minutes into the the third.
What Sunday night in Cleveland showed was not how much the Celtics miss Isaiah Thomas. It that they are simply not on the same talent level with the bigger, strong Cavaliers.
Using a pair of threes from Smart, the Celtics went on a 12-2 run to cut Cleveland’s lead to 79-67. A third Smart three (and fourth straight by the Celtics) with just over four minutes left in the period narrowed Cleveland’s advantage to 80-70.
Bradley’s three with three minutes left cut the lead to single digits, 84-75. Jonas Jerebko nailed a three with 1:45 left to trim the lead to seven and then a Smart-to-Olynyk touchdown pass cut the lead to five, 85-80. Thompson was fouled by Smart on a layup with 9.4 seconds remaining. Thompson missed the free throw and then Smart was fouled shooting a three by Iman Shumpert with two seconds remaining and connected on two of three free throws to cut the lead to 87-82 as the Celtics closed the quarter on a 26-10 run.
The Cavaliers missed all seven threes while Boston was 6-of-9 from deep in the third.
Jonas Jerebko opened the fourth with a three to cut the margin to two points, 87-85. Terry Rozier blew a 4-on-1 layup as Thompson blocked his layup attempt. Thompson hit four free throws to put Cleveland back up six, 91-85.
After a clutch drive by Kyrie Irving, Smart hit his fourth three. Another Cleveland turnover led to an Avery Bradley missed layup but a Crowder put-back that brought the Celtics within one, 93-92, with 7:09 left.
Then Smart nailed his seventh three to tie the game, 95-95, with 5:44 remaining. Then immediately out of a timeout, J.R. Smith hit a corner three. Olynyk came back with a layup to cut the lead down to one, 98-97.
Olynyk’s push shot in the lane with 4:22 left gave the Celtics the lead, 99-98, their first since 5-3.
Love and Thompson came up huge with offensive rebounds in the next possession. Thompson grabbed a big rebound and was fouled and make a free throw to tie the game. He missed the second free throw, leading to an offensive rebound by Thompson and a missed three by J.R. Smith. But Love came from the weak side to tip in the miss for a 101-99 Cleveland lead.
Horford’s two with 3:08 left tied the game, 101-101. But upon review, it was changed to a three. The Irving drove the lane for a layup to put Cleveland up, 103-102. J.R. Smith fouled Smart shooting a three with 1:19 left. Smart made two of three to put Boston up, 104-103.
Following a backdown move for a layup from Horford, Smith’s straightaway three with 36.3 left tied the game again, 106-106, as Jae Crowder doubled down on LeBron James.
Jonas Jerebko hit a wing jumper with 30.3 seconds left to put the Celtics up, 108-106. With James killing the shot clock, he eventually dished to Deron Williams who found Irving. Irving then drove the lane and tied the game with 10.7 seconds remaining on a layup, setting the stage for Bradley’s game-winner.
Full article @ Avery Bradley hits 3 to shock Cavaliers at buzzer in Game 3, Marcus Smart huge
Source: GreenStreet Blog