Wrap-Up — There’s an unwritten rule in sports that says when you have a big dog down, you’d better put him away when you have the chance.
Otherwise, you’ll have Number 23 coming to Boston for a Game 7.
The Wine & Gold came into Friday night’s elimination game at The Q with their backs against the wall. So they turned to the game’s greatest player, who responded with yet another herculean effort as the Cavaliers took the 109-99 decision – forcing a Game 7 on Sunday night in Beantown to decide a trip to the NBA Finals.
LeBron James posted his third 40-point game of the series and seventh of the 2018 postseason – exploding for 46 points on 17-for-33 shooting, including 5-of-7 from beyond the arc and 7-of-11 from the stripe, leading both teams with 11 boards and nine assists to go with three steals and a nasty chase-down block of Terry Rozier.
James came into Game 6 as the NBA’s all-time best in elimination games – averaging 33.5 points, 10.8 boards and 7.3 assists in 21 contests. He’s been even better since returning to Cleveland in 2015 – topping the 40-point plateau in five of Cleveland’s eight elimination games, including Friday night’s mammoth performance.
The four-time MVP – who logged a game-high 46 minutes in the win – gave the crowd a scare when he went down grasping his right lower leg after banging knees with Larry Nance Jr. near the three-point line with just over eight minutes to play. James was able to walk it off – then proceeded to score 12 more points the rest of the way, including back-to-back triples with two minutes to play that essentially sealed the deal.
”I’m very fortunate and blessed to have (James) on our side this time,” quipped George Hill after the win. “I’ve been in the league for some years and ran across him on the other side and really hated his guts. But to have him on our side, it kind of lets me take a deep breath of fresh air. It’s just something that you really can’t explain what he’s doing night in, night out. It’s just something special.”
The Cavaliers needed everything LeBron (and some key role players) had to give on Friday considering the loss of their five-time All-Star Kevin Love just five minutes into the game.
Just before the midway point of the opening period, Love and Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum inadvertently cracked heads. Both hit the floor, but Tatum was able to return while Love walked woozily back to the Cavaliers’ bench. Not long after, he was back in the locker room being checked for a concussion and didn’t return for the rest of the night.
”I think when you lose an All-Star like Kevin and our second go-to guy, pivotal part of what we try to do, and when he goes down and then you help your brother up, that’s what they did,” praised Coach Tyronn Lue. “Kevin left the game. He didn’t come back, and guys got together and they played. They played for Kevin. They played for each other and were able to get the win.”
With Love going scoreless, the Wine & Gold got some relief from some unexpected sources.
George Hill has been a different player in opposing venues throughout the first six games of the East Finals – and he enjoyed the home cooking on Friday night, finishing with 20 points on an efficient 7-for-12 shooting from the floor and perfect 6-of-6 from the line, adding three boards, three assists and a pair of steals.
Jeff Green came off the bench to post easily his best game of the series – notching nine of his 14 points in the second quarter after Love went down. The former Celtic finished 4-of-10 from the floor and 5-of-5 from the stripe, adding three boards and a pair of blocked shots.
”We’re going in to a hostile environment where the crowd is going to be loud, but we have to go in to that building and take the game,” said Green. “We can’t allow it to come to us. We have to go out there with an aggressive mentality.”
Larry Nance Jr. rounded out the Cavaliers in double-figures – coming off the bench to finish with 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting to go with seven boards and a pair of steals. Nance Jr. is now 11-of-12 from the floor in the series; 31-for-40 in the Playoffs.
”(Playoffs are) all about the fight; all about the toughness,” said Nance Jr., whose father was in a Cavs uniform the last time Cleveland knocked Boston out in a Game 7. “Every possession matters – whether it’s after a timeout, the first possession of the game or first possession of the quarter. One play can change the whole game, and we just have to be keyed in all of our coverages and all the plays we’re running. Playoffs are a different animal.”
Boston got excellent production from their starting backcourt – with Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown combining for 55 of the Celtics’ 99 points. After combining to go just 7-for-30 from the floor in Game 5, the duo was 21-for-34 on Friday.
The Celtics also got solid games from their top reserves, Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart – each notching 10 points apiece – and Jayson Tatum finished with 15, but Boston got next-to-nothing from their starting bigs, Al Horford and Aron Baynes, who combined for just six points in the loss.
As a team, the Cavaliers bested Boston on the boards, 44-31, and committed just 11 turnovers. Cleveland didn’t allow the Celtics their first fast break point until midway through the third quarter and shot 82 percent (18-of-22) from the stripe compared to just 55 percent (11-of-20) for Brad Stevens’ squad.
The Celtics did drain 12 triples compared to Cleveland’s nine, but the Cavaliers managed 13 more field goal attempts on the night.
Turning Point — Much has been made about each team’s struggles in the first and third quarters of the series. But on Friday night, it was the second period that set the table for the remainder of the contest.
After taking a 25-20 lead after one quarter, the Celtics took a six-point edge, 30-24, early in the second. That would be as good as it would get for Boston on Friday night.
At that point, Cleveland’s bench – which had been underwhelming through much of the postseason – took over. Jeff Green, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson all helped to key a 20-4 run, capped by Clarkson’s fast break finger-roll, that saw the Cavaliers take their first double-digit lead of the night.
The Cavs held a double-digit lead throughout the third quarter before Boston got within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The last time they cut Cleveland’s lead to just seven – 101-94 with 2:47 to play in regulation – LeBron splashed home consecutive triples to send the Celtics to the showers.
By the Numbers – 34.9, 9.1, 5.1 … LeBron James’ scoring, rebound and assist averages in seven career Game 7s – sporting a 5-2 mark. In his last Game 7 outing – against Indiana on April 29 – he finished with 45 points, a total he also posted in his first career Game 7 against the Celtics back in 2008.