LeBron James (right) was an unimpressive 5-of-16 from the floor, but his leadership was terrific as the Cavaliers exploited the Celtics lopsided defense to become the first postseason opponent to crack 50 percent shooting against the league's No. 1 defense. The Cavs used a variety of means to defeat the Celtics' defensive traps that had limited James to 8-for-42 shooting in the opening two losses at Boston. In the early minutes of Game 3 James was an extravagant decoy, at times sprinting figure-eights in the halfcourt like a rich man's Reggie Miller stirring up the Cavs' halfcourt offense. Realizing that the help defender was coming when he put the ball on the floor, he lured the double-team in order to pass to Ben Wallace as the Cavs' big men focused on going to the basket in those situations. Another time James simply lateraled to Delonte West (who incidentally matched James's game-high 21 points) to shake off the extra defender, then took the return pass and went straight up -- no dribble -- for his first successful three-pointer of the series in 11 attempts. All of these plays contributed to Cleveland's shocking and decisive 32-13 lead in the first quarter. "Of course I haven't shot the ball like I would like, but the win is all that matters," said James. "I was still able to get 4 steals and 3 blocks and 8 assists. I do so much more than just shoot the ball."
This was the worst defeat of the season for Boston, which had lost only once by more than 15 points (a 110-92 loss to visiting Utah in March). After being held to 33.1 percent in the games at Boston, the Cavaliers shot 65.5 percent in the first half and 53.6 percent for the game. Meanwhile the Celtics continue to play in second gear offensively; they shot under 50 percent for the ninth time in 10 playoff games (after finishing fourth overall in shooting during the regular season), they earned fewer free-throw attempts than the opponent for the eighth time in 10 playoff games, and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have yet to score more than 22 points in any postseason game. In spite of having three explosive All-Stars, the Celtics have played out of character: During this postseason they've looked predominantly like a one-dimensional team incapable of winning in a shootout, a team that can win only with defense.
With 9:11 left in the second quarter James was clotheslined by James Posey, who had done an excellent job defending James off the bench during the games in Boston. James was pushing the ball hard on the break into the keytop when Posey tried to wrap him up, but LeBron ran through him like Jim Brown off tackle before Posey pulled him down by the neck. James lay on the floor for an extended time holding his throat while Posey and Anderson Varejao were assessed technicals for their confrontation after the play. "I just felt myself getting grabbed and choked," said James, who agreed with the ruling of a flagrant 1 foul on Posey.
Ben Wallace had missed all but 3:40 of Game 2 with an inner-ear infection. After surviving the pregame warmup, he started Game 3 and in his opening 8-minute stint made all three of his shots around the basket to contribute to the Cavs' shocking 32-13 lead through the first quarter. Wallace finished with 9 points (on 6 shots), 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in 28 minutes. "He was able to take advantage of those guys tilting over and made a couple of shots," said James. "With 45 minutes left on the clock we still didn't know if he was playing or not."
The Celtics have now lost all four of their road playoff contests. During the season they won more games on the road than either Atlanta or Cleveland had won at home, yet the Celtics have been unable to win a game in either building during postseason. Game 4 becomes a revealing indicator of their championship hopes, as they clearly have yet to elevate their play on the road. "That's my job is to find why," said Boston coach Doc Rivers when asked about his team's discouraging road play. "In every way they beat us tonight. They got to loose balls, they played harder, they outcoached us. We have to be better."
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