LeBron James's playoff return to Boston on Thursday night will not be remembered like Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. James’s performance that night—45 points and 15 rebounds with the Heat facing elimination—was one that will be in the first few paragraphs of his Hall of Fame bio. What he did Thursday wasn't as historically significant nor as statistically impressive. It just got the job done.
James’s 31 points and 11 rebounds in Game 3 obviously don't carry the same gravitas, but it’s a disservice not to mention his typical brilliance. He carried the Cavaliers all night, which are now up 3-0 against the Celtics and poised to sweep the series after their 103-95 win.
James, who recently passed Michael Jordan for seventh all-time in playoff assists, has thoroughly dominated teams in the first round for most of his career. His new Cleveland team has followed suit, withstanding a plucky Boston squad that can’t figure out a way to slow down the Cavaliers’ attack.
As in the first two games of the series, the Celtics found a way to keep things close. They played Cleveland even in the second half, and were within three late in the game before a Kevin Love three gave Cleveland a six-point lead with just over two minutes to go.
Love played the best game of his playoff career, scoring 23 points and picking up seven rebounds. His performance made up for a substandard effort from Kyrie Irving, who shot 3-of-11 for only 13 points.
Such are the problems Cleveland’s offense poses to opponents. Irving can shoot less than 30 percent, but the team can still run like a well-oiled machine.
Boston simply does not have the components to keep up with the Cavaliers. Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics' best scorer, especially struggled in Game 3. He only managed five points, and was a minus-13 in his time on the floor.
[daily_cut.NBA]It may be time for Brad Stevens to change up Boston’s rotation and find more minutes for Thomas and Jae Crowder, but nothing will be enough to change the outcome of this series.
It’s that kind of inevitability taken for granted of James-led teams. Yes, it’s the first round, and Cleveland is heavily favored for a reason. But it says something about James’s year-to-year brilliance that he can score 31 points, and record a double double on more than 50 percent shooting while no one bats an eye.
This series is now all but over. Stevens has done the most with the cards he’s been dealt, and to Boston’s credit, it has remained competitive in every game.
But as has been the case for so many lower seeds in the Eastern Conference, James is just too much for this Celtics team to overcome.