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Game Preview: Cavs look to take pride and whatever is left of Celtics in Game 3

Cleveland Cavaliers (2nd Seed) vs Boston Celtics (1st Seed)

Eastern Conference Finals – Game Three

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UPCOMING MILESTONES: With one more win, the Cavaliers will have won 14 straight games going back to last years’ Finals – breaking their tie with the 1988-89 L.A. Lakers for the longest playoff winning streak in NBA history. LeBron James is four three-pointers away from making the 3rd most in NBA postseason history – passing Manu Ginobili. With six rebounds, Kevin Love will have pulled down the 7th most in franchise history and have passed Hot Rod Williams. With another 30-point game, James will also break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of eight straight such games in the playoffs.

Two games into the Eastern Conference Final, with both on the road, and the Cavaliers are now coming back to Cleveland with a commanding 2-0 lead. Never in history have the Cavaliers lost a series when up 2-0, as they have gone a perfect 14-0. To make matters worse for the visiting first-seeded Boston Celtics, their star point-guard has been ruled out for the remainder of the series after re-aggravating a right hip injury. Especially with the Wine-and-Gold leading by a record-breaking 41 at halftime and a franchise-best 44 in regulation in Game Two, Boston’s chances  seem exceedingly slim moving forwards, though the potential to steal a game or two still potentially exists.

To emphasize how lopsided Game Two was, if the Cavaliers stopped scoring after the first quarter (32), they still would have led at half, as the Celtics scored 18 in the first and 13 in the second for 31 points in total. In the second quarter, Cleveland outscored Boston by 27 points (40-13).  Leading the charge for the Cavaliers was none other than LeBron James, who put up 30 points on 66.7% shooting with 4 rebounds and 7 assists. Following close behind were Kevin Love (21 points and 12 rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (23 points on 72.7% shooting). For Boston, the lead scorer was Jaylen Brown, who put up 19 points. Going down the box score, the Cavaliers led in nearly every statistical category: field goal percentage (56.5% – 37.2%), three point percentage (48.7% – 29.6%), rebounds (45 – 39), assists (28 – 23), steals (10 – 7), and blocks (6 – 4). The only area where the Cavaliers struggled was at the free throw line, where they shot 15-23 (65.2%).

While LeBron James was on the court, the Cavaliers outscored the Celtics by 46 points, resulting in an individual Net Rating (average of how many points per 100 possessions a team outscores their opponents by while a certain player is on the court) of 70.5. Conversely, Isaiah Thomas posted a +/- of -32 and an individual Net Rating of -89.0. Once again, even contesting LeBron James’ shots wasn’t enough – 11 of his 18 shots were contested, but he made eight of them (72.7%).

Three keys for Game Three will be: (1) make free throws. While it didn’t matter for Game Two, the lost opportunities can sometimes add up. Of the 16 regular season games where the Cavaliers shot at their Game Two free throw percentage (65.2%) or worse, they lost nine. (2) Continue to stifle on defense. Nine Cavaliers players had individual Defensive Ratings (opponent points allowed per 100 possessions while on the court) under 90.  (3) Find the open man, rely on proper ball-moment, and look for smart shots. Every player on the Cavaliers had an Effective Field Goal percentage (a measure of shooting percentage that factors in three pointers being worth more) above 50%. Comparatively, for the Celtics, only Jordan Mickey (who also had the only positive +/- on the team) had an Effective Field Goal percentage above 50%.

Key players to watch for on the Celtics will be Al Horford (averaging 15.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per playoff game), Avery Bradley (averaging 15.9 points per playoff game), and Jae Crowder (averaging 13.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per playoff game).

Tipoff is set for 8:30 EST and will be broadcast on TNT.

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