We’ve been here before with LeBron.
In the 2012 playoffs, LeBron’s Heat had lost the first two games they played at TD Garden and the Celtics had done a good job of at least containing the best player in basketball early in the series.
Then, in Game 6 – he went off.
LeBron shot 19-of-26 from the field in 45 minutes played, finishing the game with a whopping 45 points and giving the Heat a decisive 98-79 victory. Miami went on to win the series in seven.
He’s not as spry as he was six years ago, but LeBron already has two 40-plus point games in this series against the Celtics. He’s averaging 32.0 points per game against the C’s through the first five games of this series.
The narrative that the Celtics are doing a pretty good job on him defensively is mostly true, though. LeBron averaged 34.0 points per game in the Cavs’ sweep over the Raptors in Round 2 and he averaged 34.4 points per game in the Cavs’ seven game series against the Pacers in Round 1. Relatively speaking, the Celtics are doing fine on Bron Bron with that 32 per game average.
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That Pacers series should be something of a model for the Celtics, although the difference here is that the Celtics have home court advantage – while the Pacers did not heading into that series. Indiana lost that Game 7 in Cleveland, 105-101.
If this series goes seven games (and it likely will), Game 7 would be at the Garden – where all bets are off.
LeBron has become a master of conserving his energy this postseason, and has been shown to take certain games off if things aren’t going well early. It happened in Game 1 against the Celtics in this series, and it happened in Game 6 of the Pacers series in Cleveland. LeBron played just 31 minutes in that 121-87 blowout loss to the Pacers, and he scored just 22 points – his low for that series.
Similarly, people have also started to accuse certain NBA coaches – including Brad Stevens – of throwing in the towel early if a certain game is going to be just too tough to win. The idea is to save your best tricks for a game that’s more likely to go in your favor (i.e. a home game).
Al Horford (30 minutes) and Jayson Tatum (31 minutes) were the only Celtics to play over 30 minutes in the Game 3 blowout loss in Cleveland and the C’s had three bench players log more than 20 minutes in that game. In other words, they got punched in the mouth early and then decided it would be too difficult to waste valuable energy in trying to pull off an improbable road win.
But tonight’s game is back home. Back at the Garden, where it will be rip-roaring loud.
The Celtics know they have to get this game tonight, or they are cooked. Conversely, the Cavs can afford an “L” here, with Game 6 in Cleveland set for Friday night.
These aren’t ideal circumstances for either team – but it is what it is at this stage of the game.