LeBron James, Cavaliers dispatch Celtics, setting up rubber match with Warriors

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) celebrates against Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart (36) during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Cleveland.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James was blunt about the way he played after a Game 3 Eastern Conference finals loss against the Boston Celtics, but not before he got into with a fan on the way to a press conference.

At first glance, the sight of Avery Bradley's 3-point attempt in the waning seconds of Game 3 doesn't come to mind as the flawless shot.

Boston cut the Cavaliers series lead to 2-1 as their improbable victory came despite the absence of star guard Isaiah Thomas, who is out for the remainder of the National Basketball Association season with a hip injury.

With Cleveland in jeopardy of dropping its second game in a row after James followed an 11-point Game 3 performance by picking up four first-half fouls, Irving put on a one-man show. "That's what I always think, when people of his stature or people like him, you've got to play confident the whole night and play aggressive". Prior to Game 3, LeBron had scored 30 points or more in nine straight playoff games this postseason, tying a mark set by the one and only Michael Jordan. The Celtics made 18 3-pointers for the game. Before Sunday's shootaround, Celtics Coach Brad Stevens said Thomas may need surgery for the hip impingement, which has been bothering him since March.

But those who've watched James over the years know that the future Hall of Famer never has two bad games in a row, and if there's an opposing franchise who knows what he's capable of, it's the Celtics. It's the second time he's failed to score in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, joining Game 4 of the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.

Stevens said Thomas was "really down" Saturday and several of the Celtics said they've been staying in touch by texts. "We wish he was here with us, and we just want him to get better".

Following the game, LeBron said he played poorly and "just didn't have it". Boston's starting big, Al Horford, had his best offensive night of the series, finishing with 16 points on 7-for-18 shooting, adding six assists but just two rebounds in the win.

"A game like that just happens", Lue said. It's our job to go out there and make sure that we make the next right play."We were playing way better". "But like I said, we won 10 in a row, we lost a game and we've got a chance to come back and work on some things that we're definitely going to correct".

The second period saw the Celtics keep up the pace, while the Cavaliers tried to claw back into the game.

"That's no excuse. They played well, but we've just got to play better, be more physical". "We needed the 17 rebounds from Kev, and it was huge for our team". When he gets going like that, he's tough to stop.

  • Julie Sanders