CLEVELAND -- Even before the Cleveland Cavaliers left Boston following a dominant performance in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, small forward Richard Jefferson talked about the importance of closing out any game strong.
But when the Cavaliers returned home for Game 3 against the Boston Celtics, they surrendered a 21-point lead in the second half and a last-second three-pointer proved to be their undoing in a 111-108 loss at Quicken Loans Arena Sunday night.
“You can call it garbage time,” Jefferson said then. “You can call it whatever, but for veterans, guys that might not be in the rotation if Coach is going a different route, you can use the three to six minutes to get a rhythm, so in this situation, when you know you’re going to get 12 minutes, you know that (Terry) Rozier is going to pick up Deron (Williams) full court.
“You know that Jaylen Brown is going to push it and try to get dunks, so we have to meet aggression with aggression or else, all of a sudden, a 40-point lead goes to a 25-point lead and you gave them some breath. No, it’s just go. There’s normally rules to garbage time, but in these moments like this, it’s aggression versus aggression.”
Even after handling the Celtics in Game 1, small forward LeBron James felt the Cavaliers could play better, and maybe, just maybe he was onto something.
The Cavaliers stormed out to a 40-point lead in the first half and never looked back, as they closed out a record-setting 130-86 victory at TD Garden in Boston, which gave them a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series before returning to Cleveland.
The 130 points and 44-point margin of victory were single-game franchise records in postseason play.
The Cavaliers were so dominant in the first three quarters that “The Big Three” of James, point guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love did not play a single second in the fourth quarter. In fact, they were pulled with 76 seconds left in the third quarter.
However, the Cavaliers struggled to duplicate the effort in Game 3.
After making 14 of their first 22 attempts from long distance, the Cavaliers made just two of their 11 looks from three-point range in the fourth quarter, both from shooting guard J.R. Smith over the last five-plus minutes of play, and only two of 17 following the halftime break.
Conversely, the Celtics buried five of their 11 three-point tries in the fourth quarter.
“It’s not about our opponent,” Jefferson said. “It’s about us executing our gameplan consistently. It’s about us moving the ball, sharing the ball, playing more for one another, and it doesn’t matter who you put in front of us.
“We have to go out there and do our jobs, and if we do it well, we feel like more times than not, we’re going to win. It’s not about the streak. It’s not about the Celtics. It’s about making yourself the best team that you can be, getting ready for trying to win a championship.”