After an embarrassing 130-86 loss at home in Game 2, the Boston Celtics seemed to be down and out of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers with an early 0-2 deficit against the defending NBA champions.
Considering not only the fact that Game 3 would be in the hostile Cleveland environment, but also that All-Star and All-NBA point guard Isaiah Thomas was ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs with a hip injury, a blowout was expected in Game 3.
However, in an incredible show of resilience, the shorthanded Celtics erased a 66-50 halftime deficit, cut the lead to five heading into the fourth quarter and countered the punches thrown by their opponents down the stretch.
In the final minute, there was an exhilarating back-and-forth scoring display. After Boston’s Al Horford stretched their lead to 106-103 with 45 seconds to play with a pretty runner, Cleveland’s J.R. Smith hit a three with 36 ticks remaining to knot up the score. Then surprisingly, Celtics reserve Jonas Jerebko hit a 22-foot jumper with 30 seconds remaining to give Boston a slim two-point lead. But, that was answered by a Kyrie Irving layup with 10 seconds left.
Tied at 108 with the ball on their end at halfcourt, the Celtics inbounded the ball with one goal: let the clock run all the way down and, most importantly, find the bottom of the net. Out of the timeout, Boston head coach Brad Stevens drew up a beautiful play and shooting guard Avery Bradley converted off of a perfect feed by Marcus Smart. Check out the play below:
Bradley finished with 20 points on 8-of-23 shooting on the night. While it wasn’t exactly the smoothest shot since it bounced around the rim a bit, it got the job done and narrowed Cleveland’s series lead to 2-1.
Marcus Smart had 27 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 7-of-10 from three in the victory for the Celtics. It was his first start of the series and he certainly stepped into Thomas’ big shoes and showed patience and poise on the game-winning assist.
After the game, the two explained their will to fight back.
In the loss, Kyrie Irving dropped 29 points and had seven assists while Kevin Love double-doubled with 28 points and 11 rebounds. However, LeBron James surprisingly struggled, posting just 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting with six rebounds and six assists in the losing effort.
Game 4 is set for Tuesday in Cleveland. Despite losing Thomas, the Celtics managed to make this series interesting yet again, thanks in large part to Bradley’s last-second heroics.