Give LeBron James enough time and he’ll usually figure things out.
It won’t go down as one of the most memorable playoff performances of his storied career, but James delivered a methodical 44 points on 17-of-28 shooting and – outside of his seven turnovers – looked in complete control.
From attacking off the dribble to feasting in the post, James was aggressive in going to the rim against mismatches. He finished with 13 baskets in the paint, the second-most of his playoff career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“He’s the best in the game at evaluating the court and figuring out what he wants and where he wants it,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
“The thing about it is that you just have to battle. You just have to make it as hard as possible, because he’s going to find a matchup that he ultimately wants.”
James also set another noteworthy record in the win, hitting a 22-foot jumper midway through the second quarter to give him his 2,357th playoff basket, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most in postseason history.
James already ranked first all-time in playoff points (6,668), playoff minutes (9,736) and playoff steals (410).
“To know where I come from, small city 35 miles south of here, and to hear I’m in the same category or talked about and jumping these greats in the playoffs, it’s pretty cool,” James said.
“You hear the scoring, the field goals made, and for a kid that really doesn’t care much about scoring.”
The series now heads back to Boston, where the Celtics have been a different team than on the road in the playoffs.
Through nine games at TD Garden, they’ve yet to drop a game and have outscored opponents by an average margin of 11.3 points. On the road, they’re just 1-6 and been outscored by 12.0 points per game.
111-102, Final in Game 4.— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) May 22, 2018
Celtics have still not won a road game in regulation since March 28th.
Headed home for Game 5... pic.twitter.com/8gLNqiDEt6
After Boston and Cleveland both held serve at home, the Celtics still hold an advantage with two of remaining three games hosted in their building.
But with James in a groove and the rest of the Cavaliers following his lead, Game 5 on Wednesday (UAE: 04:30 +1) will be a challenge for a young Boston side eager to respond.
“It’s the best two out of three to go to the NBA Finals. Doesn’t get better than that,” Stevens said. “Ultimately, anybody that didn’t think this was going to be tough, I mean, everything is tough.
“In this deal, it’s a blast to have to grit your teeth, get up off the mat and go after it again.”
The two-time MVP finally arrived in the Western Conference Finals with a 35-point explosion in Game 3 to lead Golden State in 126-85 blowout win over the Houston Rockets.
Curry had 34 points total through the first two contests in Houston and even though the Warriors took Game 1, their sharpshooter’s struggles kept them from imposing their true identity.
That changed on Sunday as Curry found solace at home to put any injury concerns over his knee in the rearview mirror.
It didn’t look like Game 3 would provide that setting after Curry missed five of his first six shots from long range in the first half. Curry, however, let loose in the third quarter – as he’s so often done – by knocking down all seven of his shots, including two 3-pointers, to pour in 18 points and blow the game open.
Curry has now scored at least 17 points in a playoff quarter 10 times, with seven of those coming in the third quarter, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“There’s obviously that anticipation when you come in transition and you find an open look and there’s a collective hush in the crowd, especially in this building,” Curry said.
“It’s a cool moment. I was searching for it in the first half. I had plenty of opportunities, I just couldn’t knock it down. Third quarter it opened up. I’ve been doing it for a while. I won’t let two tough games shooting keep me frustrated.”
After nailing a floater during his sizzling run in the third quarter, Curry even faced the crowd, took out his mouthpiece and shouted “This is my f****** house!”
The emotions were that of a player who finally got to release some built-up frustration.
“A lot of it was just [me] talking to myself, almost like you’ve got to be your biggest fan sometimes,” Curry said. “No matter what questions I was being asked over the first two games or what the expectations was, I had the highest expectations for myself. And you’ve just got to – find whatever you want to get going.
“I mean, obviously, it felt good, and you want to use that energy to show your teammates that you’re here, you’re with them, get the crowd into it. But it’s one game, and you’ve got to have that same type of energy and intentions and focus the next game and the right approach. So, I did my job tonight. I’ve got to do it again.”
Aside from the sharpshooter going off, there were other factors at work in Golden State taking a 2-1 series lead.
Here are five takeaways from Game 3.
Rockets shoot themselves in foot
Houston have an extremely thing margin of error – if one at all – against Golden State, so they can’t fumble away opportunities like they did in Game 3. The Rockets shot just 13-of-27 in the restricted area and 4-of-9 on corner 3s. There were simply too many misses point-blank and while that 3-point shooting percentage isn’t bad, it’s not enough to beat the Warriors on their home floor.
There’s been a lot of focus on how much the Rockets have hunted Curry when they have the ball, but Golden State are using a similar tactic against James Harden. When Harden was the primary defender in Game 3, the Warriors shot 7-of-12, with Curry and Kevin Durant going 5-of-6. Durant in particular looked to attack whenever Harden was on him and that should continue to be a theme in the rest of the series.
Paul can’t help shoulder load
Houston have no chance in this series if Harden and Chris Paul are going to both have off-games at the same time. In Game 3, Paul was the worst of the two and never looked fully comfortable attacking the Warriors’ defence. There would be times he got by his defender and into the lane, only to get stuck and have to pass it out. He’s shooting just 40.4 per cent overall and 25.0 per cent from deep in the series.
Chris Paul can’t shake Kevon Looney (he’s been sensational in the first half) pic.twitter.com/riRd3HqoDm— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 21, 2018
Kevon makes Houston go Looney
He won’t get much attention because the score was so lopsided and he played just over 15 minutes, but Kevon Looney was an absolute force defensively in Game 3. He doesn’t offer much spacing or offence on the other end, but his length, athleticism and effort made it hard for Houston players to score in the paint. Looney finished with a defensive rating of 69.3 points for the game and has a mark of 88.4 for the series.
Turnovers are deadly
This isn’t exactly a revelation, but turning the ball over against Golden State is fatal. The Rockets experienced that first-hand when they lost possession 20 times, leading to 28 points for the Warriors. Dead-ball turnovers, like shot-clock violations, aren’t as killer as live-ball turnovers, but both kinds will obviously hurt you, especially in an environment like Oracle Arena.