Avery Bradley rattled in a game-winning three pointer at the buzzer as the Boston Celtics clawed their way back into the Eastern Conference final with a 111-108 win over Cleveland Sunday.
Boston cut the Cavaliers series lead to 2-1 as their improbable victory came despite the absence of star guard Isaiah Thomas, who is out for the remainder of the NBA season with a hip injury.
“Everybody had to step up their game, especially with one of our brothers down,” Thomas’ replacement Marcus Smart said.
“We haven’t really had a great shooting performance this series, but tonight was one of those nights. We fought and came out with the victory.”
Game four of the Eastern Conference finals is Tuesday.
Cleveland not only surrendered a 21-point lead in game three but blew chances to set a playoff record for consecutive wins (14) dating to game five of last year’s finals, and to become the fourth team in history to start the playoffs 11-0.
“I didn’t have it tonight,” James said. “We have been playing so well, but when another team is playing that well then you know that the team that gets the last shot is going to win.”
Smart scored a career-high 27 points and Bradley added 20.
“The key for us was to chip away,” said Bradley of the Celtics, who made 18 three-pointers for the game. “We needed to get stops and make plays on the offensive end.”
Al Horford added 16 points and Kelly Olynyk contributed 15 off the bench for the Celtics, who were beaten by an average of 28.5 points in the first two games.
The Celtics also kept Cavaliers superstar LeBron James in check Sunday. James finished with just 11 points on four-of-13 shooting and was held scoreless in the fourth quarter. He also had five turnovers.
Kyrie Irving paced the Cleveland offense with 29 points and Kevin Love added 28 points and 10 rebounds. Tristan Thompson scored 18 points.
The Cavaliers shot just two-of-17 from three-point range in the second half but still led by as many as 21 points in the third.
Cleveland dominated the Celtics so thoroughly in the first two games that not many gave Boston a chance on Sunday, especially without their top player Thomas in the lineup.
But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue expected Boston to battle to the end.
“They have a scrappy team,” he said.
Coming into Sunday’s contest, the Cavaliers had lost just one game at home to an Eastern team in the playoffs dating to 2015.
“You have to have some type of adversity to be successful,” James said. “So I am happy it happened now. We have to regroup and get back to playing desperate basketball.”
Stephen Curry scored 29 points as the Golden State Warriors thrashed the San Antonio Spurs 136-100 to take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference finals series on Tuesday.
Curry’s points haul included six three-pointers as the Warriors all-round offensive power crushed a San Antonio Spurs line-up missing the injured Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker.
Curry also contributed seven assists and seven rebounds to put the Warriors just two wins away from reaching a third consecutive NBA Finals in the best-of-seven series.
No fewer than seven Warriors cracked double figures as the home side led from start to finish before their home fans at the Oracle Arena.
The Warriors were quickly into their familiar scoring groove, sprinting into a 33-16 lead by the end of the first quarter and never letting up.
They led by 28 points — 72-44 — by half-time and accelerated still further in the third quarter to lead 106-75.
“You always try to build momentum and sustain it, for sure,” Curry told reporters.
“We had a point of emphasis of starting the game with a lot more energy and focus on the defensive end so that we could just feel a little bit better about ourselves than we did last game in the first quarter.”
San Antonio’s depleted offense was led by Jonathon Simmons with 22 points. Only one other Spurs player made double figures — Davis Bertans with 13 — while LaMarcus Aldridge was restricted to just eight points.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich gave a typically forthright assessment of his team’s obliteration.
“It’s not what I expected. Disappointed,” Popovich said.
The blowout capped a miserable few days for San Antonio, who on Sunday had squandered a 25-point third quarter lead before Leonard suffered his ankle injury that left him sidelined on Tuesday.
Game 3 takes place at San Antonio on Saturday and Brown has already warned the Warriors to expect a response in Texas.
The NBA postseason gives the league’s very best players the platform to take both themselves and their teams to the next level and this year we’ve been blessed with a variety of standout performers.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James has been in staggering form as has kept his team undefeated through eight playoff games while Kawhi Leonard has been a phenom to lead the San Antonio Spurs to the Western Conference Finals.
Of course, there’s also the Golden State duo of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green who have helped guide the Warriors to an undefeated postseason so far with the Boston Celtics reaching their peak thanks to their star point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Here we take a look at the candidates for the postseason MVP award:
1) LEBRON JAMES – CAVALIERS
PLAYOFF STATS: 34.4 PPG / 9.0 RPG / 7.1 APG
The king of Akron has been the king of the playoffs so far having produced a ridiculous stat line as he led his Cavaliers to an undefeated record after two series in these playoffs. The 32-year-old has been on fire from beyond the arc shooting 46.8 percent on 5.9 attempts per game and James is also shooting 55.7 percent from the floor while getting the rest of the Cavaliers good shots on offense.
Cleveland have struggled on defense as a team, but James has offset some of those deficiencies by averaging 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. The defending champions will face the Celtics in a series they are heavily favoured to win despite not having home court advantage.
The series could be tougher than the tests Cleveland experienced in the first two rounds but right now, James is performing on a different level and has positioned his team to make a run to the Finals once again.
2) KAWHI LEONARD – SPURS
PLAYOFF STATS: 27.7 PPG / 7.8 RPG / 4.6 APG
Due to the stiffer competition out West, the towering forward has played four more games than James in these playoffs. However, that has not kept Leonard from playing at an MVP level throughout this playoff stretch although the Spur’s star was injured in game one of the Western Conference Finals after an ankle injury and is questionable for game two.
Prior to this setback, Leonard was having a 50/40/90 postseason (52.5 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from three and 93.1 percent from the free-throw line) and is the Spurs best defender on the court. If he manages to get healthy by game three, San Antonio might have a chance to contend with the Warriors at home.
3) STEPHEN CURRY – WARRIORS
PLAYOFF STATS: 28.6 PPG / 5.7 APG / 41.5 3P%
The Warriors are a super team so any one of their starting five could make this list but Curry remains the driving force and igniter of the offense.
Golden State are still undefeated through nine games, the Spurs offered a challenge in game one of the Western Conference Finals only to have Curry answer the bell, his performance was key to the comeback win as he sealed the game with a mid-range jumper to put the Spurs away.
Curry leads all players with 39 three-pointers made and is shooting 47.9 percent from inside the arc as well, his numbers might drop slightly due to the intense defense that the Spurs play on the perimeter. But the Warriors are expected to win this series especially with the lingering injury issues that have plagued Leonard so far. The Golden State squad will need Curry to continue his tremendous form if they want to accomplish their ultimate goal of winning another championship.
4) DRAYMOND GREEN – WARRIORS
PLAYOFF STATS: 14.9 PPG / 8.9 RPG / 7.2 APG
As important as Curry is to the offense of the Warriors, Green is just as vital for the defense. Green is a menace on the boards, a disruptive player who can block shots and get rebounds during crunch time. The animated power forward can also score when the team needs it as he’s been shooting 50 percent from the field and from three-point territory.
His contributions will be crucial in the Spurs series as the Warriors need the scrappy forward to establish himself in the post and keep plays alive with his offensive rebounding. His seven or more assists per game have helped the Warriors get open shots for Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
5) ISAIAH THOMAS – CELTICS
PLAYOFF STATS: 25.4 PPG / 6.5 APG / 44.1 FG%
Isaiah Thomas has the “IT” factor in the playoffs, the undersized point guard has been able to lead his Celtics to an Eastern Conference Finals showdown against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Thomas runs the offense for Boston and facilitates shots for his teammates, he also can run in transition and make shots under pressure.
The Celtics will have their hands full against the Cavaliers but Thomas must be clicking on all cylinders if they want to compete. He’s only shooting 34.3 percent from three-point range but that could improve against Kyrie Erving who is not a great defender for Cleveland, which will allow him to establish more separation and get his shot off with ease. The Celtics might be too dependent on Thomas to create at times but he is their best player and chief facilitator when the team performs at a high level.