Cavaliers blow 21-point Game 3 lead as LeBron James disappears



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CLEVELAND — Of LeBron James’ many attributes, one that was easily taken for granted over the last seven or so years is the perception that he is immune to having bad playoff games.

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He had one Sunday night, a dud that opened the door for the to score the most improbable victory of the playoffs to this point. Boston won it 111-108 on a 3-pointer by Avery Bradley with 0.1 seconds left and completed a 21-point comeback against the to pull the suddenly interesting Eastern Conference Finals to 2-1.

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James had just 11 points, of which only three came in the second half as he went 1-of-9 shooting and had an unusual vanishing act when his team needed him.

James has had a few bad playoff performances in his career. There was the 2-of-18 shooting game in Boston in 2008. The mysterious low energy Game 5 against the Celtics in 2010 where he was a stunning non-factor. Of course the failure in Game 4 of the 2011 Finals in Dallas, where he managed just eight points.

They’re easy to recall because they’re so rare.

James has been as reliable in the spring as the rain ever since, delivering time and time and time again. Over the last month, he’d never been better, racking up nine straight 30-point games to tie a Michael Jordan record and 10 straight games of 25 points and 50 percent shooting, a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar record. He’s never been hotter.

Which made what happened Sunday so remarkable. Not just that the Celtics broke the Cavs 13-game playoff win streak. Not just that they did it without the injured Isaiah Thomas. Not that they came back from being 21 points down with 19 minutes left.

James got beat on rebounds. He seemed to not want the ball in the fourth quarter, giving it up and standing away from plays like he’d taken a time capsule back to his unsteady years.

To be sure, the Celtics were fantastic down the stretch. Needing scoring badly, they caught fire from outside, making 11-of-22 3-pointers in the second half while the once hot Cavs had their weapon stolen, going just 2-of-17 in the second half from beyond the arc.

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Marcus Smart, who drew the start in place of Thomas, had one of the best games of his career, finishing with 27 points and making 7-of-10 3-pointers. He was the scoring engine in the second half, putting up 19 and inspiring his teammates with fearless play.

Kevin Love had a brilliant game with 28 points and 10 rebounds but he also missed a wide-open late 3 when it really mattered. Kyrie Irving was equally excellent with 29 points and seven assists. On this night, James’ supporting cast could not be blamed.

Jonas Jerebko, who had only been used in mop up duty over the first two games, was a Brad Stevens last ditch attempt at changing the game’s direction that worked brilliantly. He sent him in for Al Horford with seven minutes left in the third quarter and the Cavs holding a 21-point lead, their biggest of the game.

Jerebko delivered the kind of energy and abandon the Celtics had been missing. He only made four baskets but he got five rebounds and started getting under the Cavs’ skin. Within minutes he tussled with Love, Kyle Korver and Deron Williams. It seemed to help turn the tide.

Over and over the window opened for James to put a stop to it but he never did.