Cava­liers want to get phys­i­cal in Game 3

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - SPORTS - By Jeff Schudel jschudel@news-her­ald.com @jsproin­sider on Twit­ter

LeBron James scored more than 40 points four times in the first 11 games of the 2018 NBA play­offs and the Cava­liers won ev­ery time.

James scored 42 in Game 2 of the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals on May 15 and the Cava­liers didn’t win. The Bos­ton Celtics pre­vailed, 107-94.

The con­clu­sion from prac­tice on May 17 in In­de­pen­dence: All eight or nine play­ers who get into Game 3 on May 19 at Quicken Loans Arena are go­ing have to do their fair share of row­ing the boat or the Cava­liers are go­ing to cap­size quickly.

“We’re play­ing too slow,” guard J.R. Smith said. “We’re mak­ing LeBron play hero ball, which is tough to do, es­pe­cially in the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals. We’ve got to help. And with that said, we have to give him the op­por­tu­nity for us to make him feel con­fi­dent to give us the ball so we can make the right plays. We’ve got to help him and he’s got to help us.”

James grabbed 10 re­bounds and dished out 12 as­sists to go with his 42 points as the Cava­liers were fall­ing be­hind, 0-2, in the best-of-seven series. For­ward Kevin Love scored 22 points. That means the seven other Cava­liers that had sig­nif­i­cant play­ing time com­bined for 30 points.

Smith was 0-for-7 shoot­ing in 27 min­utes. He ad­mit­ted it is dif­fi­cult to get into a rhythm if he doesn’t catch fire quickly. He scored only four points on 2-of-9 shoot­ing in the Game 1 loss.

“Just make shots,” Smith said. “That’s all that we can do. I mean, ob­vi­ously we can do more on the de­fen­sive side, but our main fo­cus right now is to make shots when we get them. When we don’t have them, try to make the next best play. Right now ‘Bron and Kevin are work­ing overly hard, try­ing to carry us, and we’ve just got to step up and do our job.”

Get­ting open shots is the chicken-and-egg riddle of play­off bas­ket­ball. Does it start with good de­fense, or does it start with crisp pass­ing un­til the ball finds an open shooter? It starts with de­fense, Coach Ty­ronn Lue said, and that starts with be­ing more phys­i­cal —

“gooning it up,” to use Lue’s ex­pres­sion. He said the Celtics gooned it up on the Cava­liers in the first two games of the series.

“It’s not a bad thing to goon it up,” Lue said. “Like tak­ing hard fouls and be­ing phys­i­cal. They’re play­ing play­off bas­ket­ball.

“Be phys­i­cal. Don’t let them run as freely. I thought we did it for spurts (in Game 2), but we’ve got to do it for a full 48 min­utes.”

The Cava­liers have to win four times in the next five games — a daunt­ing task. But they’ve been in this sit­u­a­tion be­fore. They were down 0-2 to the War­riors in the 2016 NBA Fi­nals, won Game 3 at home, lost Game 4 at The Q and then won the next three games to be­come NBA cham­pi­ons. They had to win twice in Oak­land to do that.

“We know what it takes,” said Lue, the coach of that

cham­pi­onship team. “They (the Celtics) won two games on their home floor. They’ve been play­ing well all play­offs. They’re 9-0 on their floor. We un­der­stand that, but now we’ve got to come home and take care of our busi­ness on our home floor.

“Just be­cause we’re home, it doesn’t mean that we’re go­ing to play well. We’ve got to come out and just take the game. We’ve got to put a full 48-minute game to­gether, which I know we can. Our fans will prob­a­bly be ready to go, and we’ll be ready to go, also.”

The Celtics are un­de­feated at TD Gar­den in Bos­ton in the 2018 play­offs, but they are 1-4 on the road.

Game 4 is 8:30 p.m. May 21 at the Q. The Cava­liers will have to win at least one game in Bos­ton to rally and win the Eastern Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship a fourth straight year.

CHARLES KRUPA — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Celtics guard Jaylen Brown tries to drive against J.R. Smith on May 17 in Bos­ton.

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