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NBA Playoffs: Cavaliers vs. Celtics game three preview

The Cavaliers attempt to take a commanding 3-0 lead over the Celtics

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James' fourth quarter takeover of Cleveland's 99-91 game two victory was as beautiful and vintage as it was necessary. He scored 15 in the final frame, almost single-handedly powering the Cavs' offense as they held off the feisty Celtics. David Blatt's squad now heads to Boston in search of three-games-to-none advantage in their opening round series versus the Celtics.

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics

When: Thursday, April 23rd, 7:00 EST

Where: TD Garden -- Boston, Massachusetts

Where on my eyeballs: TNT, Fox Sports Ohio

Enemy blog: CelticsBlog

The first quarter of game two was a seesaw affair. Former Cavalier Tyler Zeller carried Boston's offense with 9 early points, but couldn't slow down Timofey Mozgov (who had 8 of his own) on the other end. Kyrie was on fire early, knocking down 4 of his first 6 attempts en route to 9 early points, but when he was off the floor to start the next period, the Cavs had trouble connecting on jumpers and getting stops. Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Evan Turner hit a few shots, and suddenly, much like game one, the Cavs found themselves down nearly double digits in the middle of the second quarter.

Cleveland found a way to recover from their swoon and surged to a halftime lead, just like they had done in game one. Boston's offense sputtered, recording just one field goal in the final 4:00 of the first half, helping the Cavs erase what had been a nine point deficit. After the break, they picked up right where they had left off, stifling the Celtics' offense (Brad Stevens' bunch shot just 38.8% on the evening) and earning trips to the free throw line (9-to-2 advantage in the third quarter alone). All told, Cleveland went on a 32-9 run over a ten minute stretch from the four minute mark of the second to the six minute mark of the third, cruising to a 68-54 advantage at one point.

Despite their prolonged rough patch in the middle of the game, Boston didn't fold. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Evan Turner led the Celtic charge back into the game, and while they were never able to tie, they managed to make it tight. Isaiah Thomas free throws made it a three point game midway through the fourth, and Marcus Smart free throws with 3:32 to go made it a four point game. However, LeBron James simply took the game over in the final period. He had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the fourth, on his way to a splendid 30-9-7 overall line, but his real impact came with the way he collapsed the defense as the game wore on.

The average distance of LeBron's first half two-pointers was 11.4 feet; in the second half, that number shrank all the way to 5.5 feet, including four shots right at the rim. When James decides it's time to attack, he's the most efficient, dynamic playmaker in the league, and Kyrie's probably a close second. Much is made of Kevin Love's ability to pull the defense away from the paint due to his outside shooting ability, but LeBron (and Kyrie) driving to the hoop has a similar effect pulling the defense inward, freeing up open looks. It is a symbiotic rather than a codependent relationship. Love and LeBron/Kyrie help one another in incalculable ways.

Keeping the intensity up

In some ways, the Cleveland-Boston series is very similar to the Golden State-New Orleans series out West. Despite the fact that the outcome is all but certain, both underdogs performed admirably in the second game of each series. For the Warriors and Cavs, the next challenge is to go on the road and crush their opponents' spirits, keeping the intensity up despite comfortable leads and wide talent gaps. While Golden State and Cleveland may be on a crash course for the Finals, neither can afford to think that way. A sweep would give the players a chance to rest, coaches a chance to gameplan for their next opponents, and fans a chance for their heart rates to settle.

Fear the Sword Fearless Prediction

If the Celtics are going to steal a game in this series, it's probably this one.


They won't.

It'd be sort of fun (as a semi-objective observer) for Boston to pull off the upset in game three, thereby upping the stakes for game four, but it's hard to see how that happens. The TD Garden crowd will be intense, but since we haven't seen the Cavs' full on Flying Death Machine offense take flight, it sort of feels like they're due to take off in this one. If Cleveland starts fast and gets out to a big lead, the crowd will be neutralized.

Cavaliers 122, Celtics 102.