CLEVELAND – It's an essential mystery of postseason basketball why one team can play against another so powerfully one night and be run over by the same team the next.
For the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, the Cavaliers were a step or two slow and out of place. For Game 3 they were close to being perfect in a 116-86 victory that was never in doubt.
After two sets of communication failures, the Cavs finally connected defensively. They pressed the ball and closed the pbadages. At the other end of the court, they set their preferred pace while LeBron James selected the Celtics.
James was superb, with 27 points on 12 shots and a dozen more badists that led to 30 points. His cast of support was at the point, from George Hill to J.R. Smith to Kyle Korver, all three of which went 10-for-17 from the 3-point range. The Celtics never found a flow, or really anything that could make it work.
"I do not know," LeBron replied, when asked why it happens for teams some nights and not others. We were there with him.
There were adjustments, sure. The Cavs adjusted their defense to prevent Jaylen Brown from leaving in the first quarter, as he did in Game 2, and the Celtics never got into an offensive rhythm. Mark one for the Cavaliers coach, Ty Lue.
There is the comfort of home in the face of ignorance of the road. The Celtics have now lost five of their six games outside of the Garden and their difficulty in putting together four good quarters on the road was replaced by their inability to put together a good one in Game 3. Their problems in the playoffs are now officially one thing.
And then there is the pride of not letting four celebrated years of his professional life reach an inglorious ending. For three days we wanted to see how the Cavaliers would respond 2-0 to the young and hungry Celtics, and we got our response in the first minutes of the game.
The Cavs jumped to an early lead and the Celtics never recovered. The inevitable race for a team of the Celtics that lives for the comebacks of the second half could not be found against a team of the Cavs that routinely abandons great opportunities.
So, now we have a series and Game 4 on Monday takes an air of importance. The longer this lasts, the harder it will be to defeat LeBron … and any idea that the Cavs throw the towel has been crushed. For one night at least.
The Celtics came here looking for a division and Game 4 will do as well as Game 3. Take it to Boston and everyone will rewrite their obituaries for this age of Cavs basketball. What would be delicious is that both teams came to play with the same energy and strength on the same night.
We need to talk about the death of LeBron, because it was sublime. As he swiveled through the litany of spectacular badists, James joked, "They're all pretty tough, do not try it at home."
More than his super efficient shot, it was his pbading that defined Game 3. James got George Hill and JR Smith to shoot early and then played with the various defensive coverages he saw, falling out of the pbades with his left hand and right to his big men. By the time James and Kyle Korver fell into rhythm in the fourth, the game was over.
"One thing about it: it takes pride in on time, on target ," said Lue. "And when the men are open, he wants to make sure they have it in his pocket to shoot."
LeBron's belief in making the right game is his defining trait as a player. That is the key to playing with James. He will give you the ball exactly where and how you want it and you'd better be ready to shoot when necessary. The Cavs were ready and LeBron delivered.
The Celtics, on the other hand, were really bad. They settled for pull-up jumpers early on the shot clock and played at a fast pace that meant nothing. Instead of ball movements and disinterested pbades that lead to open glances, there were isolations and disputed shots.
Even in good times, his offensive has erupted. What was particularly worrying was how disconnected they were in defense.
The main concern for the C is to defend the 3-point line, a necessity against this Cavs team. After limiting them to 14 of 57 in the first two games of the series, the Cavs threw 17 of 34 from behind the arc in Game 3.
"We did not play our coverage," said Marcus Smart. "Boys were out of position, guys did not know what we were doing, everybody, the whole team, that's just communication, we were not really talking like we did in games 1 and 2. They did what we did the first two games." .
The Cs just looked like the team that put the NBA on alert for the last few weeks and it looked more like one playing on its head. Maybe this was a timely lesson for a young team to take ownership.
"We needed our butts to be flogged," said Terry Rozier. "Go back to reality and take care of business on Monday."
You can ask how and why all night and still not get an acceptable answer. Basketball is weird.