Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Date and Time: Tuesday, May 23, 2017, 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Celtics vs. Cavaliers TV Coverage: TNT
Many forgot just how good the Celtics are. They did after all finish first in the Eastern Conference with 53 wins and advanced to their first conference final since 2012, so they must have done something right. All that good work during the regular season was passed by after the C’s were easily handled in the first two games. One thing this team has is heart, according to Brad Stevens, and they weren’t going to fold after dropping the first two by a combined 57 points.
Without Thomas, the starting backcourt of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart came up big as the Celtics overcame a 21-point third quarter deficit. Starting in place of Thomas, Smart was the biggest contributor. He knocked down seven three-pointers and scored 27 points and got plenty of help from Jonas Jerebko, who scored 10 points and was plus-22 in just 12:32 of run time. It would have been easy for the Celtics to give up after falling behind 77-56 with six-and-a-half minutes to play in the third.
A game like Sunday’s might just be what the Cavaliers needed in their quest for a third straight Finals appearance. The Cavs made it look easy winning 10 consecutive games this postseason and 13 in a row overall dating back to last year’s Finals and complacency may have been setting in. As focused as LeBron James said his team was entering Game 3, it’s hard to imagine the Cavs didn’t let out a collective sigh after sweeping in Boston and learning that Thomas was out for the remainder of the postseason.
If Boston’s game plan was to get the Cavs overconfident, it sure worked. The Cavs knocked down 14 three-pointers in the first half and looked every bit the team that won in Boston by 44 points in Game 2. But there was an issue lurking that arose in the final 18 minutes of Sunday’s game. In one of the worst playoff games of his career, James tallied just 11 points and committed six turnovers and aided Boston’s comeback by going 0 of 6 with one point over the final quarter-and-a-half. “I didn’t have it,” James said postgame.
The Celtics learned on Saturday that Thomas was done for the rest of the playoffs with a hip injury he sustained against Washington and re-aggravated in Game 2. His loss is a big blow as the C’s try to recover in the series, but they rallied behind a stellar defensive effort for a surprising 111-108 win on Sunday. Starting in place of Thomas, Smart came up large in the second half. A career 29 percent three-point shooter during the regular season, Smart was unconscious from deep, hitting 7 of 10 overall from distance and 5 of 6 in the second half when he tallied 19 of his 27 points.
Smart channeled his inner Thomas and was fearless in the second half, playing all but 38 seconds over the final two quarters. It was the kind of effort the Celtics needed from him with I.T. out and they got it. But to expect Smart to replicate that Game 3 performance on Wednesday might be asking too much, and the loss of Thomas will be felt to a higher degree.
Celtics vs. Cavaliers Free Picks
We have a series in one of the conference finals thanks to the Celtics stunning upset. But consider this the ultimate wake up call for the Cavaliers, who got lazy after beating up the C’s in Boston and bolting to a 21-point lead on Sunday. They built their sizable lead without much help from James and let one slip away. The loss isn’t all on The King, however. The Cavs went cold from deep and allowed the C’s to take advantage.
Boston was a 16-point dog and pulled off one of the bigger upsets in NBA playoff history with their win. Check back for odds at BookMaker.eu and, despite their win on Sunday, expect the visitors to face another double-digit spread. I don’t see James having another poor night and I don’t expect the Cavs to play as poorly as they did in the second half. But the C’s have confidence and they will cover.
Celtics vs. Cavaliers ATS Pick: Grab the points with Boston at BookMaker.eu
Celtics vs. Cavaliers Score Prediction: Cavaliers 116 – Celtics 108