BOSTON -- The ball is back in Cleveland's court.
The Celtics proved that they could play with LeBron James and the mighty Cavaliers in the first two games of the best-of-seven, Eastern Conference semifinal series. They proved that they weren't too old or too slow to compete with the younger, seemingly more athletic Cavs.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown said that was only because the Cavs, who achieved the best record in the regular season (61-21), were doing things in the first two outings that they don't normally do and they weren't playing up to their potential as a result.
Friday night at the TD Garden, on the five-year anniversary of Boston's worst home playoff loss in team history (97-70 versus Indiana in the conference quarterfinals), the Cavs showed the Celtics just how good they could be when the play at their best. And the Celtics did not like what they saw.
Cleveland handed Boston its worst home playoff loss in team history, 124-95, to capture their first postseason win in Boston in 18 years, stun the home crowd which included celebrities such as hip-hop power couple Jay-Z and Beyonce, take a 2-1 lead in the series and regain home-court advantage.
Boston's championship hopes have now taken a severe blow considering that the team that wins Game Three to snap a 1-1 tie in a best-of-seven series goes on to win the series 76.3 percent of the time. Any momentum that Boston had by crushing Cleveland in Game 2 is now gone.
But the Celtics, who never led in this one, will be the first to tell you that this series is far from over.
James, strained elbow and all, had his way against Boston's defense, pouring in a game-high 38 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. He set the tempo and controlled the pace of the game from start to finish.
James was so good in fact that he helped deflate the Celtics in the opening 12 minutes of the game. He outscored the Celtics in the opening quarter all by himself, 21-17, helping Cleveland build a 36-17 lead by the time it ended. The Celtics never responded after having their confidence stripped way in the opening quarter.
The sellout crowd of 18.624 chanted "Defense," throughout the game, but apparently the Celtics didn't hear them. By halftime, with Cleveland up, 65-43, the fans started booing the home team, which has now been outscored by a combined 48 points in its last two home Eastern Conference semifinal playoff games (they lost to Orlando, 101-82 in Game 7 last year).
James wasn't the only player that had his way against Boston's porous defense. All five of Cleveland's starters scored in double-figures, and former Celtic Delonte West added 14 points off of the bench. Antawn Jamison (20 points, 12 rebounds) outplayed Kevin Garnett (19 points, 4 rebounds) and Shaquille O'Neal (12 points, 9 rebounds) dominated Kendrick Perkins (5 points, 2 rebounds).
Once again Rajon Rondo (18 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds) outdueled Mo Williams (12 points, 7 assists) but it wasn't enough to turn the tide in the Celtics favor.
The Cavs set a postseason record for the most postseason points scored in team history (124) and the highest postseason shooting percentage, knocking down 59.5 percent of their shots while limiting the Celtics to just 42.7 percent shooting.
Rivers had to throw his first-quarter game plan out of the window after Perkins and Garnett picked up two quick fouls in the opening seven minutes of the game, forcing them to the bench. But the Celtics can't use that as an excuse. At that time, they were down 20-8 and captain Paul Pierce (11 points on 4-of-15 shooting), Boston's go-to player, was 0-for-5. It only got worse from there for the Celtics, who trailed by as much as 24 in the first half.
Cleveland extended its lead to 96-70 after three quarters of action, and with a109-80 lead with 6:38 remaining in the game, a lot of the fans started heading to the exits.
Read tomorrow's Providence Journal for a full game recap.