CLEVELAND — Opportunity missed.
Jaylen Brown and the Celtics spoke all day about have a big opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals. They had the Cavaliers on the ropes Friday night. For 12 minutes, it looked like these young Celtics were ready to take out the 3-time Eastern Conference champs and end LeBron James’ 7-year run to the NBA Finals.
Then LeBron James happened. The King was an amazing 17-for-33 from the field including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, to finish with 46 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in a 109-99 Cleveland win over Boston at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Celtics were outscored 34-18 in a pivotal second quarter team-wide collapse and James took over with 17 points in the second quarter as the Cavaliers beat the Celtics in Game 6 here Friday night to force a decisive Game 7 Sunday night at TD Garden.
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The Celtics will be looking to avoid making the wrong kind of history. They have never lost a playoff series when leading 2-0, posting a perfect 37-0 mark in such situations.
Brown scored 15 points in an amazing first quarter display as the Celtics shot a remarkable 11-for-18 from the field in the opening 12 minutes. The Celtics drove to the basket early and often. They were rewarded with easy baskets and open looks.
Brown and the Celtics were feeling it in the first. Marcus Smart found Brown with an amazing no-look, over the shoulder pass and Brown drained it for a 19-15 lead.
Things got even worse for Cleveland with 6:58 left in the first. Kevin Love collided with Jayson Tatum. The two banged heads and Love went to the locker room. The Celtics managed a 25-20 lead after the first and the Cavs appeared flat and the crowd seemed very nervous. Then the Celtics started to settle.
With Love out for the rest of the game due to concussion symptoms, it was former Celtic wing Jeff Green picking up the slack. He appeared to feed off two dunks, one on a pretty alley oop pass from LeBron James, to get his game going. With 9:01 left in the first half, Terry Rozier hit a three for a 33-29 Boston lead.
Cleveland, with JR Smith on the bench, went on a 15-1 run to take over. Al Horford was 0-for-4 in the first half without a point and Boston trailed at the half, 54-43.
The Cavs slowly built their lead in the third quarter. LeBron James hit a jumper with four minutes left to build the advantage to 77-61 Cleveland. The Celtics showed some life toward the end of the third. Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier hit threes when James rested for the final 57 seconds of the quarter and Boston trailed just 10, 83-73, heading into the fourth.
The frustrated Celtics had their run-ins with the officials. Jayson Tatum went after Mike Callahan after he was called for a first-half foul on LeBron James on a strip from behind. Then there was no goaltending called on James on a block of a Rozier layup midway through the third.
Then Tatum and Morris went after Derrick Stafford with two minutes left in the third. Brad Stevens came over to pull both away.
The Celtics got within seven twice in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter but their inability to get key rebounds and keep Larry Nance and LeBron off the glass killed them. James put back a miss with 6:32 left in the fourth to make it 95-83 Cleveland.
With 4:27 left, Horford found a streaking Jayson Tatum for a dunk and the Cleveland lead was again down to seven, 97-90.
LeBron’s three with 2:23 left put the lead back to 10, 104-94. His fifth three just 40 seconds later, falling away over Jayson Tatum, put Cleveland up, 107-96, setting the stage for Sunday night in Boston.