Cavs Head Home Desperate To Dig Out Of 0-2 Hole
This is not how it was supposed to go for the Cavaliers. LeBron James and Co. shook off a taxing seven-game series with the Pacers and swept through the Raptors, earning a much-needed five days off for one of the league’s oldest teams. But aside from a first-quarter burst from the four-time MVP in Game 2, nothing has gone right for Cleveland in what’s amounted to James’ first 2-0 series deficit in an Eastern Conference series since 2008.
James had 21 first-quarter points as the Cavs led by seven at the half in Game 2, but the Celtics smothered Cleveland with a 36-22 third quarter in turning the tide. The Cavs could get any shot they wanted against Toronto but they found open looks much harder to come by in Boston. Cleveland contested 28 of the Celtics’ 48 second-half field-goal attempts, while Boston contested a ridiculous 36 of the Cavs’ 39. With a versatile core of Celtics defenders who can switch on pretty much every possession, nothing has been easy for Cleveland.
The hope for the Cavs is that going home makes a big difference. Boston is 1-4 on the road in the postseason, dropping all three road games against the Bucks in Round 1 and needing OT to beat the 76ers in Game 3 of the second round. Cleveland has won five straight at Quicken Loans Arena since its Game 1 no-show against the Pacers, but four of those were decided by four points or fewer – and two required James hitting ridiculously tough buzzer beaters.
Home or road hasn’t made a huge difference for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston’s two outstanding young wings, but Al Horford has been significant less involved away from TD Garden. His average dips from 19.7 points at home to 12.4 on the road in the playoffs, and he’s a 60.4 percent shooter in Beantown as opposed to 51.1 percent outside of it. Same goes for Terry Rozier, the Celtics’ most surprising postseason player. The point guard has put up 20.0 points per game at home and just 12.8 on the road while shooting an unsightly 33.9 percent in the playoffs.
The Cavs are still waiting to have a true breakout performance from 3-point range in these playoffs. Their single-game high for 3s made through these first 13 playoff contests is 14, a total they topped seven times during their run to the NBA Finals last postseason. J.R. Smith went scoreless in Game 2, his third game this postseason in which he played 25 minutes without scoring.
The Cavs’ list of reliable players is dwindling by the day. Kyle Korver and Kevin Love are just about the extent of it, and given how overly reliant both are on getting clean looks based off James’ penetration, neither is particularly effective when he takes a rare rest.
How good has Tatum been in his first postseason? On Saturday he’ll try to join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only rookies to score at least 20 points in five straight playoff road games. And after struggling a bit in the Sixers series with a hamstring injury, Brown has scored at least 23 points in his last three games. Both are also long defenders who can guard multiple positions, and in Brown’s case at least be somewhat effective checking James on occasion.
Boil it Down
Amazingly enough, the Celtics weren’t favored in their series against the 76ers until Game 5, and even that line hovered between a pick’em and Boston by 1 as Brad Stevens’ team closed out Philadelphia. So it’s not totally surprising that the Celtics are 6 ½-point underdogs in Game 3 despite being 38 points better than the Cavs in Boston. The Celtics haven’t looked good in the postseason outside of the cauldron that is TD Garden, and Cleveland will be desperate to prolong what could be James’ final season in Northeast Ohio.
There’s blowout potential here, as the Celtics are going to get the Cavs’ best shot. But aside from Cleveland’s shooters having a huge night from 3-point range, it’s hard to imagine this not being a winnable game for Boston down the stretch.