LeBron James delivered yet another masterful playoff performance in Boston on Thursday, finishing with 31 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks – one of which involved stuffing Evan Turner at the rim – to lead the Cavaliers to a 103-95 win in Game 3.
Cleveland is now up 3-0 in the series and can close out the Celtics this Sunday in Boston.
And yet, there are concerns. In watching the Cavaliers this series, there are those who say they haven’t reached their full potential, that they’re not playing great team basketball, that there’s been a lack of ball movement.
What do we make of all that?
“Well, in those first two games, I completely agree,” Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan radio host Ken Carman said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I think they took their foot off the gas in the first game, and it was amazing. Boston gets out to a lead in Game 1, they come back, they get themselves out to a lead, Boston’s playing their very best basketball and the Cavs are (only) up by two. And then in Game 2, they get off to a 14-point lead in the third, and it seems like everything’s just going to be fine and this is going to be a 15-point win and everything will be okay. Then Boston comes back and they make it a three-point game. So in those first two games, I thought they just took their foot off the gas and they ended up having some problems.
“This last game, I thought Boston came to play,” Carman continued. “I could feel that Boston came to play because there were a lot of angry Cavaliers fans. They were really upset just because of the hard fouls. Sometimes we don’t like it because our favorite players go down. Well, you know what? They don’t have the type of talent that the Cavaliers have. So you better be ready to play tough and be ready to play physical. I like the challenge that they presented tonight. I knew that this was going to be a really tough game. There were some folks saying if you lose a game in this series, this will be the one because this is probably the last chance for Boston to really make that swoop in. But for the Cavs tonight, I thought they were challenged. I thought for the most part they answered the challenge, (but) there’s still some questions about rotation and how they worked some of the sets.”
Still, a sweep appears likely. Five games, max.
The exact same thing could be said about the Chicago Bulls, who lead the Milwaukee Bucks 3-0, this after taking Game 3, 113-106, in double overtime Thursday. Derrick Rose scored 34 points in 48 minutes, while Jimmy Butler added 24 in 53.
A healthy D-Rose would make for a stellar second-round matchup with Cleveland.
“I think it’s great,” Carman said. “I think it’s absolutely wonderful. It feels like a rivalry again. You go back to Jordan, (these two franchises) just don’t get along. Cleveland fans, for the most part, hate Chicago. They hate the White Sox. The Bears aren’t a rivalry, but man, they hate the Bulls and they can’t stand Joakim Noah. Joakim Noah still sets fire each and every time he comes to Cleveland and talks about Cleveland because he’ll say some nasty things about the city when he wants to. He really gets that thing going. So there’s a real passion to beating the Chicago Bulls. I don’t know if it’s as mutual with the Bulls because of their success that they’ve had in their franchise, but for the Cavaliers fans – and I think certainly for the Cavaliers – there is a real angst to get going and beat the Bulls.
“But I think the matchup is very, very good,” Carman continued. “I think Joakim Noah to a certain degree has been underrated (in terms of) how he plays as a center and how good of an offensive player he can be. He’s a fantastic player overall. He doesn’t look like a tough player, and he is. He’s as tough as nails, and he’s one of a few guys that can get to LeBron a little bit.”
As opposed to guys who try and fail – like Patrick Beverley.
“Patrick Beverley isn’t to the level of LeBron,” Carman said. “Evan Turner tried to do it tonight against the Cavaliers. He’s not to the level of LeBron. Joakim’s an All-Star. Joakim’s a great player. Joakim can try to get in there and get things going. I think that there will be certainly some bad blood, probably some hard fouls, probably some (technical fouls) being thrown around.”
Carman feels the series could hinge on the play of Kevin Love, who hit six three-pointers against Boston on Thursday.
“When he’s on the floor, he stretches out the floor so much,” Carman said. “A guy who’s defensive like Tom Thibodeau (wants) to try to keep you boxed into the half-court, but when you have Kevin Love out there and he’s hitting the outside shot, he can turn a basketball court into a football field. If Chicago plays them, I think they test them physically. I think Noah tests them mentally. And on the other side, I think Kevin Love plays a bigger role because he stretches out the floor so much.”