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LeBron James proves he’s in no hurry to give up crown

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CLEVELAND — It was all going a little too smoothly.

The Celtics beat the Cavaliers in Games 1 and 2 of the conference finals last week and the NBA’s schedule-maker gave them almost four full days to read and hear about how great they were . . . and how the Cavaliers were finished . . . and how the Celtics were bound to meet the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

It was a little bit much, no? Brad Stevens was prematurely anointed Coach of the Century, Jayson Tatum was the new Paul Pierce, and Marcus Smart was suddenly the best Celtic to come off the bench since John Havlicek in the mid-1960s.

Oh, and of course we had a good deal of fun mocking LeBron James and the aging bums from Cleveland he’s trying to carry into the Finals for a fourth straight season.

So what happened? The NBA happened, that’s what.

Back in the artificially-loud comfort of Quicken Loans Arena, the still-proud Cavaliers ran the young Celtics off the floor in the first quarter and made this a legitimate series with a wire-to-wire, 116-86 Game 3 victory. There was no beating King James at home on the same day as a Royal Wedding. He had 27 points, 12 assists, and 5 rebounds, while the Celtics played like a bunch of guys who got out of bed too early to watch the nuptials across the pond. They were the Carson Smith Five.

Winning on the road has been difficult for the Celtics in these playoffs. The Celtics lost all three games in Milwaukee and one of two in Philly. They’ll take a 1-5 road record into Game 4 Monday night. Stevens insists that this is a “small sample size,” but your lovable Celts are not immune from the disease that infects every other team in the league.

Boston’s only road playoff win this spring was the overtime afternoon special in Philly, which Stevens basically won with the Picket Fence play and other sideline strategy.

The interminable gap between Games 2 and 3 added to the anxiety and anticipation in Cleveland.

“I couldn’t really sleep,’’ admitted Cleveland coach/LeBron coat-holder Tyronn Lue. “I’m excited, happy to be home and ready for Game 3.’’

Let’s not forget that the Q has been a black hole for the Celtics this season. It was here on Opening Night that Gordon Hayward broke his leg in the sixth minute of his Celtic career. The Celtics had not been back to Cleveland’s den of din since mid-October.

There was plenty of excitement in the arena before the opening tap. The Q ranks high on the league’s Yahoo Meter, and remains unique for a scoreboard feature that tells you the up-to-date scoring differential — “The Diff.” The Celtics had a “Diff” of 25 in Game 1, and 13 in Game 2.

The Diff showed Cleveland at plus-16 in the first seven minutes as the Cavaliers ran to a 20-4 lead. The Celtics looked tentative at both ends, shooting 2 for 11 and watching LeBron score a dozen quick points. George Hill, useless in the two games in Boston, scored 11 in the first quarter which ended with the Cavs leading, 32-17. Al Horford did not attempt a shot in his 10 minutes of the first quarter.

It never really got much better for the Celtics. They played matador defense and watched the Cavaliers run to a 20-point lead in the second. Suddenly, it was the Cavs getting the easy shots for the easy baskets.

James had called out his team after the Game 2, saying, “We’ll see what we’re made of on Saturday.’’ The Cavs answered the call. Cleveland made 9 of 17 threes in the first half. Even J.R. Smith — who looked ready to calcify in mid-game when the Cavs were skunked in Boston — came back to the world of the living. The Celtics were never in this boring game (we waited four days for this?).

Cleveland stretched its lead to 28 in the third quarter.

LeBron punctuated the easy win with a couple of “Take that!” flushes. Like Tom Brady still slinging the ball in the fourth quarter against the Jets, James stayed on the floor late into the fourth, only coming out with his team up, 104-74, with 6:49 left.

Bron-Bron will not be ignored and he is not going to go down with a whimper if these are indeed his last days defending The Land.

Fortunately for all of us, there will be no more ridiculous gaps in this series. The Celtics and Cavaliers play every other day from this point forward. And if the homecourt advantage isn’t cracked, Game 7 would be next Sunday on Causeway Street.

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