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The Celtics held a 22-point lead in the third quarter against the Cavaliers on Easter Sunday at the Garden, and for once, it seemed like they’d keep that lead. Every time the Cavs knocked down the lead, the Celtics built it right back up through the third quarter, but the Cavs chipped away enough to face a 17-point deficit (98-81) entering the final frame. Among the league leaders in blown 10-point leads, the Celtics seemed poised to keep up the pace.
Then, LeBron James woke up from his slumber and showed up to play. He scored 20 of his 42 points (14-31 shooting) in the fourth quarter, helping his team completely erase the huge deficit, and even take a lead with less than three minutes left in the game. After Ray Allen hit a late three-pointer to give the Celtics a four-point lead, the Cavs battled back, and with 10 seconds remaining and the ball in LeBron’s hands, the Cavs needed two to tie and three to win.
As soon as LeBron took off with the ball after two missed Kendrick Perkins free throws, it seemed his motive was clear. He was going for the win. He tossed up a three-pointer, when a drive to the hoop probably would have tied the game. Hey, maybe he needed to get home for Easter dinner? Either way, LeBron missed, and Kevin Garnett hit two subsequent free throws to bring a thrilling game to its final score, 117-113.
Kevin Durant is the most well-rounded player offensively in the NBA. Yes, better than Kobe Bryant, and better than LeBron James. While LeBron is often considered the best basketball player in the entire world (and he is), LeBron still has a few fatal flaws. Durant does everything well, including his free throw shooting. LeBron, meanwhile, still needs to improve his work from the charity stripe, and Sunday’s effort was no different.
Had LeBron hit just a couple more free throws (including two critical attempts late in the game), the Cavs would have likely pulled out the victory. Instead, they have to only think about “what if.” LeBron went just 14-22 from the FT line, and his eight misses represent more than the difference in the game.
The Celtics, meanwhile, hit 82% of their free throws, including a perfect 7-7 from Ray Allen and a 9-10 effort from Kevin Garnett.
Part of the reason the Celtics have been losing some fourth quarter leads is that they don’t really know how to stop the bleeding. They seem to panic when another team gains momentum. While the Cavs were surging in the fourth, Paul Pierce gave his best effort, but he, among other players, continued to miss shots. Pierce finished the afternoon a pitiful 4-13 from the field.
Instead of Pierce, Ray Allen took control of the fourth quarter and the game, and put forth his best effort of the season. He scored 33 points on 10-17 shooting, including 6-for-9 from beyond the arc. As I said before, Allen hit a huge three late in the game, and came up clutch time and time again to keep the Cavs at bay.
The Celtics, with the huge win on Sunday, finished 2-2 against Cleveland this season. The two middle games were pretty pathetic, but the Celts opened and closed the regular season series with wins and have to feel confident as we head deeper into April.
Pretty much everyone and their mother received technical fouls in the game, including Rasheed Wallace, LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, and Cavs coach Mike Brown, who received two and was ejected.
“We don’t like them. They don’t like us. So I wasn’t surprised at all,” James said, citing the seven-game playoff series Boston won in 2008 on its way to its 17th NBA title. “It comes from them wanting to be really great, them winning the championship, us wanting to win the championship and having to come through Boston to try to win it.
The win also helps the Celtics as they try to catch the Hawks for the No. 3 seed (one game back). If the Celtics remain the No. 4 seed, they’ll likely play either the Bucks or Heat, and that scenario would hold true if they snagged the No. 3 seed. What’s more important is that the Celtics would hold home court advantage over the Hawks if they met in a playoff series.
Staying with the schedule, next up for the Celts is the New York Knicks on Tuesday night.