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4 takeaways after Cavaliers smack Celtics in Game 3

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The Cleveland Cavaliers were hungrier than the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Cleveland jumped out to a 20-4 lead and never looked back in a 116-86 rout, trimming the series deficit to 2-1 in favor of Boston.


Here are four takeaways from Game 3.

Celtics weren't prepared

Brad Stevens has drawn endless adulation for maximizing his undermanned team, but he did not have his players ready to perform on Saturday.

Boston battered Cleveland by repeatedly attacking the paint in Game 1 and 2, but they were passive to start as their first five shots in Game 3 were contested pull-up jumpers. The Celtics abandoned their motion offense in favor of Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown attacking in isolation.

They weren't much better on defense, either. The Celtics were uncharacteristically sloppy and disengaged. Cleveland only had three fast-break points, yet they hung 116 on Boston while shooting 30 free throws.

Brown was Boston's best player in the first two games of the series, but he was downright awful on Saturday. He spent most of the night forcing bad shots and finished with five fouls and three turnovers against three field goals - two of which came after their fate was sealed. Al Horford slipped back into being invisible, as he attempted just four field goals, while the sparkplug combo of Marcus Morris and Smart shot a combined 4-of-17.

Stevens found himself scrambling from start to finish in hopes of finding five players who would play with urgency. He even dusted off Guerschon Yabuselee (who had only played 33 garbage-time minutes in their entire playoff run before Saturday) in the first quarter, while also giving Greg Monroe and Aron Baynes extended run.

George Hill makes a difference

Cleveland capitalized on Boston's initial malaise thanks to some aggressive play from George Hill, who had 11 points and two assists in the first quarter.

The biggest difference from Hill was his willingness to attack. He drove past Rozier for the first bucket of the game, found Tristan Thompson diving to the rim with a drive-and-dish on the ensuing play, then nailed a spot-up three off a wicked cross-court dish from LeBron James. He was in such a groove that he started nailing heat-check threes, and nearly matched his combined shot attempts from Game 1 and 2 (8) in the first quarter alone (7).

Hill can be the secondary slashing option next to James if he puts his mind to it, but he's too content on being passive. Even in Game 3, his hot start was short-lived as he resorted to playing a background role in the second half. But Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue needs to hammer this point in film session - an aggressive Hill makes all the difference. 

LeBron James picks the Celtics apart

Boston was extremely successful in forcing James to play isolation basketball in Game 1 and 2, but LeBron's pick-and-roll game tore them apart Saturday.

James was brilliant in finding the roll man, as the tandem of Thompson and Larry Nance combined for 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Boston tried to plug the paint, but James went deep into his bag for several sensational passes that led to easy finishes for his bigs.

Cleveland relied on playing pick-and-pop with Kevin Love at center in the first two games, but Boston successfully shut that down by switching. James was still able to produce by attacking mismatches in isolation, but he couldn't shift the defense and get his teammates involved.

Part of that also speaks to a weakness in Boston's strategy. Additional minutes for Baynes and Monroe cut into their defensive flexibility in Game 3, as the Celtics could no longer switch onto James since he would burn them on a straight line drive if given the chance. Boston compensated by sending help from the corners, but there is nobody better than James at finding shooters.

Make-or-miss league

Beyond any schematic changes, the Cavaliers simply won this game because they started making shots and playing defense.

Cleveland relies heavily on the 3-point shot to offset their many deficiencies, and it's almost a guaranteed win when they make 17 treys. James hit a smattering of pull-ups, Hill and J.R. Smith hit three 3-pointers apiece, and Kyle Korver was red-hot with a perfect 4-of-4 performance from deep.

When the Cavaliers make shots, all of their defensive shortcomings and their lack of secondary shot creation doesn't matter. But if they only make 14 combined threes like they did in Game 1 and 2, suddenly all their weaknesses crystalize. Evidently, this is a huge reason why they have been the league's most inconsistent team this year.

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