CLEVELAND — After going scoreless in the fourth quarter and totaling only 11 points in a 111-108 Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday, Cavaliers forward LeBron James said he just “didn’t have it” as Boston battled back from a 21-point hole to win the game at the buzzer.
“I had a tough game, period — not just in the second half,” James said after the fourth-lowest-scoring playoff game of his career, which has spanned 210 postseason games. “Me personally, I didn’t have it. My teammates did a great job of keeping us in the game, building that lead. But me personally, I didn’t have it. That’s all I’ve got to say about my performance.”
James’ frustration was exacerbated by a confrontation with an adult male fan as the Cavs star made his way to his postgame news conference. The fan heckled James for his low scoring total, which caused James to advance in the fan’s direction.
“What did you do?” James said in response, prompting the fan to rattle off his playing experience on the basketball team at a local liberal arts college before security intervened to usher the fan away from the hallway where James was walking.
James’ agitation carried into his postgame remarks, in which he challenged a local radio reporter for a perceived pattern of asking negative questions. The same reporter bothered Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey in the second round for suggesting that the Cavs “dominated” the Raptors when phrasing a question.
“I was just pretty poor,” James said. “What else do you want me to say? It seems like you only ask questions when we lose. … You always come around when we lose, I swear.”
Cavaliers blow 21-point Game 3 lead as LeBron James disappears
The Cavaliers saw their 13-game postseason winning streak snapped against the Boston Celtics after one of LeBron James’ worst playoff games in years.
Celts take win in stride: ‘This team’s got heart’
With star player Isaiah Thomas done for the playoffs, the Celtics received clutch contributions from Marcus Smart and reserve swingman Jonas Jerebko to pull out an improbable last-second win over the Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Bradley hits last-second shot, Celtics stun Cavs 111-108
Avery Bradley’s 3-pointer dropped in with less than a second left as the Boston Celtics, blown out in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals and playing without star Isaiah Thomas, stunned the Cleveland Cavaliers 111-108 on Sunday night.
Cleveland was dominating Boston until midway through the third quarter, when the Celtics stormed back, thanks in large part to Marcus Smart’s scoring 19 of his 27 points after halftime. James’ second half, meanwhile, saw him shoot 1-for-8 with one rebound, one assist, one steal and three turnovers as he scored three points in 22 minutes.
After scoring 68 total points through the Cavs’ 2-0 start to the series, James was asked if the Celtics’ defensive adjustments caused him trouble in Game 3.
“No, no, they didn’t mix up the coverage,” James said. “They did a good job of sprinting back, leveling to the ball, doubling me a little bit more in the post. But like I said, my performance personally was all on me.”
The record books show it was one of James’ least-productive playoff games:
• His 11 points were his fewest in 107 career home playoff games.
• They were his fewest points overall since May 28, 2014, when he scored seven points against the Indiana Pacers with the Miami Heat.
• It was the second time in his playoff career that he was held scoreless in a fourth quarter in which he played the entire period. The first was the Heat’s Game 4 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, in which he finished with eight points.
• It was his first playoff game with fewer than 15 points and five or more turnovers (he had six) since May 6, 2008, which also came against the Celtics. He played 169 playoff games between those two games.
• It was the second time in the past 10 seasons that he scored the fewest points among his team’s five starters (the other was Game 5 of the 2014 East finals, in which he was held to seven points due in large part to foul trouble).
• The Cavaliers’ 21-point blown lead was the largest of James’ postseason career. His teams were previously 49-0 after leading by 20 points or more.
“I mean, he’s human, so he’s going to have a night like this,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “He didn’t shoot the ball well, and we still had a 20-point lead.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was not about to bury James for the off night.
“He’s such an unselfish player,” Stevens said. “He made so many great plays, some that people will talk about that led to extra passes, some that led to assists. He’s the best player in the world. I’m not going to criticize him one bit. I don’t know what to say other than he’s a handful.”
Multiple Cavs sources summed up James’ night to ESPN as simply a product of his riding Kyrie Irving (who scored 17 of his 29 points in the first half) and Kevin Love (who scored 22 of his 28 in the first half) and then having difficulty turning it on late.
“He kept feeding them and tried to let the game come to him, and he got out of rhythm a little bit,” Lue told ESPN.
Tristan Thompson blamed the downfall on the Cavs’ defense, which gave up 61 points in the second half.
“It doesn’t matter what Bron’s numbers were tonight,” Thompson said. “Defensively, we’ve got to be better. It starts with multiple efforts, taking the challenge one-on-one and making those adjustments and just playing harder.”
The loss snapped the Cavs’ perfect 10-0 start to the postseason, which James said can be a good thing in preparing Cleveland for its ultimate goal of back-to-back championships.
“I think it’s great,” James said. “What happened hurts — it’s a loss in the postseason. But I’m glad it kind of hurt, that it happened the way it did: let our foot off the gas a little bit, didn’t keep the pressure on them like we have been accustomed to. But we have to play a lot better in Game 4.”
James, asked to elaborate, said “some adversity” is simply part of the playoff process.
“I feel like you have to have some type of adversity in order to be successful,” James said. “If it was going to happen, let it happen now. Let us regroup. Let us regroup, and all the narrative and everything that was going on, let’s regroup, and let’s get back to playing desperate basketball, which they did tonight. So we’ve got to be a lot better, for sure.”