Somewhere along the way, the NBA playoffs stopped being assessed on a series-by-series case. Instead, each game was treated as its own petri dish for reaction instead of part of the same connective tissue. There’s nothing inherently misguided about this approach, but it does make grasping the entire picture more difficult and overreaction easier.
TheBoston Celtics’ upset in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals was monumental, given the spread and obvious obstacles presented by an Isaiah Thomas-less existence. But the truth of the matter is that losing didn’t bring the Cleveland Cavaliers any closer to elimination — at least in the plausible realm.
LeBron James, who scored 11 points in the loss, was always going to rebound.Marcus Smart wasn’t going to knock down seven three pointers. Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Cavs’ supporting case was likely show up. The Game 4 line was set at 15.5.
Then the first half happened and it was a shock to the senses. The Celtics looked like the much better team and James continued to look human, picking up four fouls in the game’s first 17-plus minutes en route to a 10-point halftime deficit. It was a lackluster 24 minutes for the home team. The 24 minutes that followed, however, were pretty good for James & Co. as they outscored the Celtics 65-42 while cruising to a 112-99 victory.
Irving was incredible, scoring 42 points on 15-for-22 shooting. His dominance dwarfed a ho-hum 34-point performance from James (15-for-27 from the floor). The Cavaliers now hold a commanding 3-1 lead as the series shifts back to Boston. They’ll be heavy favorites in Game 5 and likely clinch a spot in the NBA Finals after going 12-1 against the East.
Remember, this is a team that couldn’t maintain consistency during the regular season and let the No. 1 seed slip through their hands. This caused great consternation. How would they respond during the playoffs?
That answer is simple. Just fine.
James is back to his old self. Irving may, in fact, be a better No. 2 than Scottie Pippen. That particular debate deserves some study. But quite simply, Irving’s spectacular game does not invalidate James’ play. Together, they combined for 76 points. That is a good sign — and the output required to take down Golden State for a second consecutive year.
Look, this is not to say there aren’t reasons for alarm in Cleveland. But if one takes a look around and the reactionary pieces this morning, they’d be left with an impression something went horribly wrong for the Cavs on Wednesday night when, in reality, everything went as expected.
Sure, a 10-point halftime hole is not a recipe for success — and it was surprising. But, to state the obvious, the halftime score doesn’t matter. Are we really going to go even more granular and make sweeping judgments after each half now?
The Cavaliers were favored by 15.5 points and won by 13. They will win this series somewhat easily and have time to rest before playing the Warriors. James and Irving are each playing at a high level. Setting aside all these glaring realities to focus on a bad first half means missing the big picture.