Game three of the eastern conference finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks can be called the good, the bad and the ugly. No matter how you spin it though, the end result is a Cavaliers 114-111 victory in overtime. LeBron James and company lead the series three games to none and can clinch the franchise’s second trip to the NBA Finals beginning on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
It was another career night for LeBron. After coming up just one rebound short of a triple double in game two, James stuffed the stats sheet in game three. LeBron finished with 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. LeBron is the first player in NBA history to put up those numbers in a playoff game. Those numbers also add to his playoff record for games with at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists. It’s the 54th time in James’ hall of fame career that he has tallied at least those numbers in a playoff game. The triple double was the first for LeBron in a playoff game since game six of the 2013 NBA Finals when the Miami Heat rallied to beat the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron even battled through another ankle injury suffered in overtime to score the final five points of the game on a baseline three pointer and a driving layup.
James also moved up the list in a couple of playoff statistical categories with his game three performance. With his triple double, LeBron passes Jason Kidd on the all time playoff triple double list. James is now second trailing just ‘Magic’ Johnson on that list. LeBron also passed Karl Malone on the all time playoff scoring list. James is now sixth in playoff scoring.
The Cavaliers guard trio of Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova and J.R. Smith all stepped up in multiple categories with Kyrie Irving out for a second straight game. Shumpert and Dellavedova combined to score 32 points, Shumpert 15 and Dellavedova 17, with eight made three pointers. Shumpert added seven rebounds while Dellavedova recorded three rebounds and two assists. Smith came off the bench and hit shots both inside and outside. Smith finished with a double double, 17 points, ten rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
The Hawks starting five all finished in double figures in scoring. A much different story from game two where the leading scorer Dennis Schroder, who came off the bench, only played three minutes and didn’t score a point on Sunday night. Jeff Teague had a bounce back performance from his shooting issues in game two. Teague lead the Hawks with 30 points and added six rebounds and seven assists. Paul Millsap played his best game of the series. Millsap just missed a double double, 22 points and nine rebounds. DeMarre Carroll played despite battling a left knee injury for a second straight game. It’s still impacting his play, but give him credit for playing through the pain. Carroll logged 41 minutes and finished with ten points. Kent Bazemore started for the injured Kyle Korver at shooting guard. Korver is out for the rest of playoffs after injuring his ankle in game two. Following the game two loss, Bazemore told reporters that the Hawks were still the better team. Bazemore tried to back up his words with his play on the court in game three. It remains up for debate whether Bazemore walked the walk after he talked the talk. Bazemore finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Shooting was a big concern early on for the Cavaliers both as a team and for their leader. The wine and gold started just one for ten shooting. The only made field goal was a Dellavedova floater off the glass that gave the Cavaliers an early 4-2 lead. The Cavs shot just six of 27 (22 percent) in the first quarter. The Cavaliers were fortunate because four of their six made field goals were from three point land and they only trailed 24-21 at the end of the first quarter.
LeBron had another first in his career, but this one he would like to forget. James missed his first eleven shots, the worst shooting start in his career. James went scoreless in the first quarter. His first points came from the free throw line about four minutes into the second quarter. LeBron’s first made field goal was a hook shot in the lane with seven minutes remaining in the first half. The Cavaliers shot just 33 percent in the first half as a team but only trailed 49-48 at the half.
With 34.3 second remaining in the first half, the controversial play of game three took place. Al Horford would deliver an elbow to Dellavedova who was down on the court battling for a loose basketball. After the officials reviewed the play, Horford was given a flagrant two foul and was ejected from the game. It was big loss for the Hawks at that time because Horford was leading his team in scoring with 14 points. What made the call even more bizarre, the officials also issued a technical foul on Dellavedova. It will be interesting to see if Horford will be suspended for game four on Tuesday night.