Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports

The Cavs (yes, all of them) have arrived, Game 4 should be interesting

Sara Civian
May 20, 2018 - 1:42 pm

Raise your hand if you thought the Celtics were going to sweep the Cavaliers in the 2018 Eastern Conference finals.

Anyone?

Ok, then let’s get on with it.

As much as you hate to think like this, you kind of knew it: Game 3’s 116-86 blowout seemed as textbook “scheduled loss” as it gets for the Celtics. Their 1-5 road record these playoffs doesn't help.

Looks like this series will be decided by the first team to steal a road win. So this loss mostly resembled a pinch-me moment for a team that has been taking LeBron James down easily... almost too easily.

“We needed to get our butts whooped,” Terry Rozier told reporters postgame. “Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”

Two things we’ve known all along were center stage in this reality check:

1.You can’t afford to let the Cavs get rolling

2. For better or for worse, the Cavs are paced by their three-pointers  

Offensive struggles aside -- Boston shot 39%, for instance -- Brad Stevens runs a defense-first squad that had been doing its job up until Saturday. Through the first two games, the Celtics held the Cavs to 88.5 points per game -- last season they averaged 120.4 in five games.

Stevens’ most potent antidote to the Cavs’ explosive offense has been a zeroed-in containment approach.

“One of the biggest things is being able to weather those runs,” he said after Game 2. “I thought we did a good job the other night when LeBron was going nuts in the first quarter. Those can’t be 10-0, 12-0 runs. Those have to be 8-4, 6-3, whatever the case may be, you just have to hang around.”

The Cavs opened up with a 27-11 lead capped off by a George Hill three, and they held Boston to less than 25 points per quarter. The Celtics didn’t hang around in Game 3. It’s debatable if they even showed up.

Meanwhile, the Cavs apparently had a come-to-Jesus moment in realtime, making 17-of-34 three pointers (50% to the Celtics’ 27.3%). LeBron James led with 27 points, but he wasn’t forced to do the heavy lifting.

Kyle Korver made all four of his three-pointers. Six Cavs scored in double figures. Even J.R. Smith, who scored zero points in Game 2, got back in a groove you could see through this celebration alone:

Smith (11) and Hill (13) combined for 24 points -- a far cry from their collective 3 points in Game 2. Their revival was evident from the jump. Yes, in Hill’s opening basket, assist, and three all in the first two minutes. But it was mostly made clear in what’s been true this whole series.

"The toughest team sets the rules," Rozier told reporters postgame. "They came out aggressive from the jump and never looked back. We've got to play aggressive from the rip. Tonight, we were all over the place, playing too fast and doing things we didn't want to do."

So James’ rough game is behind him, the Cavs’ backcourt managed more than three points, and the Celtics’ fairytale got a dose of reality.

Game 4’s gotta be the first nailbiter of the series, right?

 

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