After blowing out the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Monday night, the Celtics returned home to host Game 3 on Friday night. Unfortunately for them, LeBron James and the Cavs returned the favor- dominating from start to finish en route to a 124-95 shellacking of the Celtics.
Celtics fans attending tonight's game were, unfortunately, witnesses to what James is capable of. He went off for 21 points in the first quarter, outscoring the entire Boston team (17) for that quarter. He ended the night with 38 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists, departing midway through the fourth quarter.
"I think he's healthy," coach Doc Rivers said after the game. "That's how I am going to characterize it. His elbow looked very good tonight, and so enough with the elbow injury, alright?"
"We told our guys," Rivers continued, "you knew he was going to grab the ball and he was going to attack all game, especially early, to get his guys involved. And he did it, but I didn't think we gave any resistance, you know? I mean, he was playing HORSE."
Ray Allen had a similar response when asked about James' performance tonight.
"He jumped out early and attacked us," said Ray Allen. "We didn't have that same aggressiveness on the defensive end or offensively. Just thinking about it, we just let him attack us- continue to attack us. Then offensively we didn't have anything. We didn't start the game moving the ball around and getting good looks and it just snowballed."
The Cavs took a 65-43 lead into halftime, shooting 62% from the field in the process. They also got to the line that half 17 times, hitting 15 of those free throws. The Celtics, on the other hand, shot a meager 43% from the field and only went 6-8 from the line.
The second half was more of the same for both teams, as the Celtics failed to bring the deficit any closer than 20 points for the remainder of the game. The Cavaliers continued to shoot the lights out, and finished shooting 60% from the field (44-74) and 91% from the line (31-34).
As good as James was, he had a lot of help tonight. The entire starting lineup on the Cavs scored in double figures. Antawn Jamison added 20 points and 12 rebounds while Shaquille O'Neal finished with 12 and nine. Even old friend Delonte West chipped in off the bench with 14 points.
"I just think we weren't very aggressive," Pierce said. "I mean they just got every shot they wanted, they got to the rim when they wanted, we didn't step up, we didn't cut off the seams. So, you know, that's the ballgame when you let a good offensive team like the Cavaliers come in here and shoot the ball and get to the rim, and get to the line- do what they want."
James singlehandedly outscored the Big Three tonight, 38-37 as Paul Pierce (11 points) and Allen (seven points) just could not get it going at any point throughout the game. Kevin Garnett finished with a team high 19 points on 8-11 shooting, but it obviously was not enough with the lack of help from his teammates. Rivers did note that they do need to get Garnett the ball more, and failed to do so tonight.
Rondo, guarded throughout the game by Anthony Parker, took a team high 17 shots, hitting nine to end the night with 18 points, five rebounds, and eight assists. Still, the lack of assists is a sign that the ball wasn't moving the way the Celtics needed it to tonight. Rivers credited the Cavs high shooting percentage as a reason why the Celtics couldn't run with Rondo. When he gets the ball in transition is when he is the most dangerous on the court.
Not enough from Paul
It was the third straight game this series that Pierce has had a quiet night offensively. No doubt guarding James all game is a tough task, but the Celtics count on getting more offensive production out of Pierce. He admits that he needs to shoot the ball better (4-15 tonight including 1-5 from the field) but isn't going to put himself ahead of the team.
"It doesn't matter what I do offensively individually," said Pierce. "I mean, I could have scored 30 tonight and we probably would have lost the game the way we played defense... I know I can bounce back but I got to do it within the framework of the team where it's going to equal wins because, you know, it's not all about one person."
Rivers also noted that Pierce needs to step up his game for the rest of the series.
"He's got to get more involved. He's got to play better. And defensively, as a group, we got to help him some, and then he's got to get into LeBron more. So it's a combination."
Anybody who has followed the Celtics throughout the season has heard the lines "sense of urgency" and "need to be more aggressive". Both of those sayings were in full affect after tonight's loss, a troubling sign for a team thought to have broken out of their regular season funk.
"Tonight we were awful," admitted Rivers. "Just didn't play with a sense of urgency, and they played like with a Game 7 mentality. You could see it early. I thought we had two lousy practices. I thought our preparation was pulling nails. And so, that was the result."
Pierce echoed Rivers' comments.
"I think when you come home and you got Game 3 in your home building after taking care of business on the road, you got to come out with a better sense of urgency. You got to know the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to come in here with all the urgency of the world."
Well, now they know, and knowing is half the battle. The other half is doing. And the Celtics will have to do a whole lot more than they did tonight if they want to even this series back up. The good news is that they don't have to sit around and dwell on this game. Game 4 is just around the corner, so they can use tomorrow to see where they went wrong in Game 3, and apply it to Sunday's pivotal Game 4.
"Waiting three, four days without play, I am excited that it's early on Sunday," said Ray Allen. "The great thing about the NBA is that we do get to put these games behind us real quickly- a game coming back in almost a day and a half. I am ready for the next game."
All in favor of putting this game behind us?