Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals was going about how people expected. The Cleveland Cavaliers were leading 77-56 midway through the third quarter, dominating the Celtics again on the heels of a 44-point victory.
Then Marcus Smart started heating up…
Normally known for his defense and hustle, Smart scored 27 points on 7-of-10 three-point shooting while starting in place of the injured Isaiah Thomas.
Smart’s production was much needed on a night when most of Boston’s players didn’t shoot great. But the supporting cast did enough in other areas to help Boston book a 111-108 victory.
Now the question remains, does this win mean anything moving forward? Or is it just one win that delays the inevitable? Let’s answer these questions below while previewing Game 4 of the Celtics-Cavs matchup.
Game 4: Cavs vs Celtics Odds (from GTBets.eu)
- Point Spread: Boston +14.5 (-110) at Cleveland -14.5 (-110)
- Money Line: Boston +1200 at Cleveland -2000
- Over/Under: 215 (-110)
- Game Time: May 23 at 8:30pm EST (Cavs lead series 2-1)
Celtics are Still Big Underdogs
Boston put everything they had into Game 3, and it resulted in an unlikely victory. There were several heroes in this game, including Smart, Avery Bradley (20 points, game winner), Jae Crowder (14 points, 11 rebounds), and Jonas Jerebko (10 points in 12 minutes).
“Pride, freedom and desperation, that’s what happened,” Kyrie Irving said of his opponents’ performance. “They played with it all. [Smart] got comfortable, and we let him.”
Despite the big win, nobody is penciling Boston in as favorites for Game 4. In fact, they’re a big underdog here at GTBets.eu at +14.5.
While it’s impressive that Boston was able to steal one in Cleveland, the fact remains that they’ll play the rest of the series without their best player and were battered by 44 points in Game 2. Given everything going against the Celtics, they’ll need to continue pulling magic out of their leprechaun hats to stay in this series.
LeBron James Had His Worst Playoff Performance
But the biggest downfall for Cleveland is that LeBron James just couldn’t find the basket. He finished with 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Throw in 6 turnovers, and this was easily one of James’ worst playoff games ever.
Don’t expect this to happen again, though, given that LBJ has been amazing in every other postseason contest so far.
“LeBron has been consistent in his bounce-back attitude since Miami,” teammate James Jones said regarding LeBron. “He doesn’t change for us. I know he’s going to come into the facility [Monday] upbeat, like the loss helps us on this process.”
Can Smart Keep This Up?
As covered earlier, Marcus Smart had the playoff game of his life. He jolted this team to life with several three-pointers in the second half and also dished out 7 assists.
Nobody expects this kind of production out of Smart on a nightly basis. But with Thomas sidelined for the year with a hip injury, don’t be surprised to see his usage elevated.
We don’t expect any more 7-for-10 three-point performances again. However, Smart should continue scoring more for this shorthanded team.
Cavs Bench Needs to Play Better
A huge difference between the Cavs and Celtics was the play of their bench. Boston got 32 points from a combination of six players, while Cleveland got just 9 points from four bench players. What’s worse is that the Cavs reserves were a combined 3-of-14 shooting.
For the most part, Cleveland’s bench has been good. And they’ll certainly need more than what they delivered in Game 3.
What to Expect the Rest of the Way
Smart and Bradley are an excellent defensive backcourt. Throw in Crowder’s defense at small forward, and it’s tougher for James and Irving to get shots any time they want.
Cleveland played a poor defensive game, as opposed to the excellent defense they’ve been playing since the Raptors series. Odds are that this is a fluke and we’ll see a much-more focused team in Game 4. James said as much himself during the post-game press conference.
“Let’s get back to playing desperate basketball,” he said. “and let all the narrative stop.”
With the Warriors trying for a sweep of the Spurs, don’t count on Cleveland giving Boston any more chances to extend this series.