Eastern Semi's Game 3 - Cavaliers 124-Boston 95 - A Resounding Response

BOSTON - MAY 07: LeBron James #23 and Shaquille O'Neal #33 of the Cleveland Cavaliers confer during action against the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on May 7, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Lon Chaney Sr. was often called "The Man of a Thousand Faces" for his ability to change his look with minimal make-up and special effects, in movies three-quarters of a century ago.  If he were still alive today, you could give him a jersey and some shorts, maybe a head-band, and he would fit right in with the Cavaliers, who are resembling The Team of a Thousand Faces.

Four nights after being, frankly, embarrassed by the Boston Celtics in Cleveland, the Cavaliers returned the favor tonight in what the ESPN announcers said was the worst home playoff loss in Celtics' history, as Cleveland, behind a resounding return to form from LeBron James and lights-out overall shooting, rolled, 124-95.

The low-light of the night occurred on the very first shot of the game, an airball from Shaquille O'Neal, but Superman acquitted himself well thereafter, getting the scoring started with four quick points, and then settling in to watch LeBron put on a first-quarter clinic.  By the time the opening twelve minutes were over, James had 21 points (which, according to ESPN, set a record for points in a quarter by any Cavalier in their playoff history),  personally outscoring the Celtics by four, and with some help from Antawn Jamison and Delonte West, Cleveland had exploded to a 36-17 lead after one.  71% shooting tends to do that, and everything the Celtics tried to do on defense came to naught.  A sure sign that this was going to be Cleveland's night, besides the obvious, was the 12 of thirteen at the free-throw line in the quarter.

Unlike Monday night, where Cleveland, though eventually losing by 18, at least rallied and caused some consternation for the Celtics before their rally fizzled out, Boston never made a push to get back in the game, and the Cavs steadily built upon the lead.

With LeBron eschewing his usual rest at the beginning of the second quarter (good move, Coach, to leave him in with the hot hand), Cleveland quickly built the lead to twenty, and then continued to make shots every time Boston put a hoop or two together.  Boston, once they fell behind by 20, never got closer than 16 the rest of the night, and the Cavaliers ended the first half on a 6-2 run which boosted the lead at the intermission to twenty-two, at 65-43, and had the Celtics' crowd booing.

The second half literally became garbage time, as Boston never got the fans involved with any sort of run.  And although the starters of both teams played significant third-quarter minutes, and Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett tried to provide some kind of spark, Cleveland relentlessly brought the game home, tucked it in, and put it to bed, leading at the end of three by 26, and then getting some minutes for most everyone on the bench in the fourth before the game, mercifully for the Celtics, ended.

For the game, the Cavs shot 59.5%, and that was after cooling down in the last few minutes.  Cleveland, after leading the rebound battle by an astonishing 34-14 after three quarters, settled for a 15 board advantage, and also won the assist battle handily.

Six Cavs finished in double figures, and Delonte West, off the bench, outscored three of the Boston starters, with 14.  Shaq had a solid game with 12 points, and came up just one rebound shy of a double-double in  23 minutes.  Jamison did have a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds.  The parade of healthy offensive and defensive numbers is worth a look for any stats-freaks among you; I will spare you all the numbers, but one number which glittered like a diamond was Cleveland's startling 31 of 34 at the charity stripe, for 91%.  If anything bespoke Cleveland's focus in this game, that number did the trick for me.

And one more line of stats for you?  The final numbers for LeBron, whose only pain tonight was delivered to the Celtics?  Fourteen of 22 shooting, and 8 of nine at the line for 38 points, with eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Team of a Thousand Faces indeed, going from a performance which had many dreading an earlier exit from the playoffs than last year's to a performance which made them look unbeatable tonight.  So...

On to Sunday afternoon we go.  Both teams have now laid an egg large enough to provide omelets for a Denny's for a week.  Who knows how the next game will go?  I have my suspicions that the Cavaliers might have won this series tonight, might have taken the starch out of Boston's season with this resounding answer to Monday's game.  But who really knows, in this bizarre series.

One thing for sure:  Cleveland, whether they win or lose on Sunday, has retaken home-court advantage.  That was the reward for tonight's game, and we will all sleep better for the next couple of nights.

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