CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James is a patient man, willing to set up his teammates for success while picking his spots to be effective on the offensive side of the floor, but such a time never came against the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Quicken Loans Arena Sunday night.
James scored just 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting, including an 0-for-4 showing from three-point range, in the Cavaliers’ loss to the Celtics, their only setback in 11 outings during the first three rounds of the 2017 NBA Playoffs and first since Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
“He's got to be aggressive, get downhill, play like he's been playing, play confident,” Cavaliers shooting guard J.R. Smith said. “That's what I always think, when people of his stature or people like him, you've got to play confident the whole night and play aggressive.
“It's the Eastern Conference Finals. It's not enough for him. For what he does, what he brings, it's not enough. He knows that. We know that. Just expect him to be better in Game 4.”
James’ struggles were not limited to the offensive end of the floor.
In addition to making just four of his 13 looks and three of his six attempts from the free-throw line, James pulled down only six rebounds and handed out six assists. Normally fundamentally sound, James committed six turnovers, stole only one pass and blocked just one shot.
“I think when he goes home, he'll watch the game again,” Smith said. “He'll take it hard that night. And then, the next day, he'll wake up and be fine with it. Well, not be fine with it, but accept it more. That's all you can ask. You take it hard when you go home, but then, the next day, you wake up and it's a new day.”
In the Cavaliers’ first 10 playoff games, James averaged 34.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.5 blocks and 2.3 steals over 41.4 minutes of play. In leading the Cavaliers to 10 straight wins this postseason and an NBA record-tying 13 overall dating back to Game 5 of last year's Finals, James shot 56.9 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from three-point range.
In Game 1 at the Celtics, James led the way with 38 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals over 42 minutes. James finished with a plus-16 rating, the second-best margin of the game.
It was James’ seventh straight playoff game with at least 30 points. The last time that was accomplished was by Shaquille O’Neal during the 2002-2003 season.
As he did in Game 1, James led the Cavaliers in Game 2, as he scored a game-high 30 points with a 12-of-18 shooting performance. James buried four of his six looks from three-point range and went eight for 12 inside the arc.
Additionally, James pulled down four rebounds, handed out seven assists, stole four passes and blocked three shots over 33 minutes. James was a plus-45 in the lopsided victory.
And if there is any lack of confidence from Cleveland's on-court leader, Smith will be there to remind James of his abilities.
“I never have that problem,” Smith said. “I've been confident every time I've stepped on the court. Whether I'm falling out of bounds or shooting a free throw, confidence is something I never lack. That's my job as his teammate and as his friend, making sure he stays confident in what he does, and you know, just trying to get him out of it.”