How the Cleveland Cavaliers responded with a crucial Game 3 win to close the gap on the Boston Celtics

Jay Asser 19:58 20/05/2018
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George Hill's strong play in the first quarter helped Cleveland open up a big lead.

The Cleveland Cavaliers bounced back against the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, winning 116-86 to close the series gap to 2-1.

After looking outmatched in the first two contests in Boston, the Cavaliers resembled a different team on their home floor.

Here are five takeways from their impressive Game 3 victory.

Non-LeBron Cavaliers step up

In Game 2, LeBron James had a 42-point triple double and the Cavaliers lost by 13. In Game 3, James had 27 and Cleveland won by 30. It’s not mystery what changed when the Cavaliers returned home. The non-LeBron supporting cast rose to the occasion and outscored the Celtics 89-86, with seven players contributing at least eight points. As great as LeBron is, he can’t do it alone, so this type of balance is essential.

Difference in urgency

Whether it was the change in venue or the Cavaliers desperate to avoid a 3-0 series hole, Cleveland was clearly the more energetic team in Game 3. While Boston’s defensive intensity waned, the Cavaliers showed life on that end – especially LeBron – and were the aggressors all night. Getting into their half-court offence and running sets with greater pace may seem like a small detail, but it made all the difference for Cleveland.

Thompson neutralises Horford

Tristan Thompson has a history of giving Al Horford problems and that match-up is once again tilting towards the Cavaliers favour in this series. Horford registered zero shots in the 31 possessions he was defended by Thompson in Game 3 – he drew a shooting foul and hit both free throws – and has now scored all of nine points for the series in 87 such possessions. Boston need Horford to be aggressive, but the Thompson effect is very real.

Brown fails to get going

Jaylen Brown has been a good barometer for the Celtics’ success in the playoffs, especially through three games in the conference finals. After dropping 23 points in each of the first two contests, he was held to just 10 in Game 3 and struggled with foul trouble. Cleveland clearly made it a point to limit Brown in the first quarter after he averaged 13.5 points in the first period in Boston, and the Celtics’ wing finished with one of his poorest performances in these playoffs.

Cleveland’s 3-ball connects

Sometimes, it’s as simple as making shots. More than that obviously went into the Cavaliers’ Game 3 win, but their 3-point shooting turnaround was crucial. After hitting just 24.6 per cent of their 3s in Boston, Cleveland hit 17-of-34 triples at home. They also made 25-of-46 uncontested looks, compared to 35-of-99 in the first two games. A positive regression was expected, but if the Cavaliers shoot like this, watch out.

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