Fans still have over a week to kill before the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers (probably) clash in the NBA Finals. Before a bland postseason apologizes via the highly anticipated rematch, at least two conference-finals bouts remain.
Golden State dispatched the San Antonio Spurs sans Kawhi Leonard on Monday night to secure their third straight sweep. Before Cleveland could glide toward the same outcome, the Boston Celtics surprisingly rallied to steal Game 3 on Sunday night.
Can the Celtics pull off a comeback for the ages without star scorer Isaiah Thomas? Viewers starving for meaningful fourth-quarter basketball will dream of three more improbable upsets.
It's unlikely, but that's the only basketball remaining until the NBA Finals start on June 1. While winding May down, let's take a look at the Eastern Conference Finals schedule and an updated outlook.
Eastern Conference Finals Schedule
Game 4: Tuesday, May 23 (Celtics at Cavs)
Game 5: Thursday, May 25 (Cavs at Celtics)
Game 6*: Saturday, May 27 (Celtics at Cavs)
Game 7*: Monday, May 29 (Cavs at Celtics)
*if necessary; all games are scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Is Cleveland in Trouble? (No.)
LeBron James had one bad game.
Up 16 at intermission, Cleveland compiled 21 points in each second-half quarter en route to suffering a 111-108 loss. James, who is still averaging 32.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game this postseason, mustered 11 points by shooting 4-of-13 from the floor.
Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, it appears as if the Monstars—upset over Cleveland walking out to their music—stole James' exceptional talents:
He had scored at least 25 points in the previous 10 playoff wins. To find a lower single-game tally on any stage, one must navigate back to November 4, 2014, when James also registered 11 points in his third game back with the Cavaliers.
His rare struggles nearly didn't matter, as teammates Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving combined for 57 points and 11 three-point makes. James accepted blame for Cleveland's first loss this postseason, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin.
"I had a tough game, period—not just in the second half," James said. "Me personally, I didn't have it. My teammates did a great job of keeping us in the game, building that lead. But me personally, I didn't have it. That's all I've got to say about my performance."
Now if the transcendent superstar has three more of his career's worst games, the Celtics are in business.
If Boston wants to even the series on Tuesday night, it could certainly use another seven three-pointers from Marcus Smart. Yes, the same Smart who shot an NBA-worst 28.3 percent from downtown during the season and scored 24 points in his previous four games before dropping a career-high 27 in Game 3.
It'd also be swell if Jonas Jerebko—who scored four points in the semifinals—could deliver another 10 points in 13 minutes again.
Neither the defense-first guard nor the seldom-used big man will sustain Sunday's offensive spark, but Boston needs someone to pick up the slack with Thomas sidelined. Highlighted by his bouncing game-winner on Sunday night, Avery Bradley has shown sparks of brilliance. He also needed 22 other field-goal attempts to produce 20 points.
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Boston still deserves credit for avoiding a sweep on the road when most viewers—this one included—prepared for Game 4's elimination around halftime. The No. 1 seed has also stymied Kyle Korver to four threes in three games, putting more pressure on The Big Three and the highly erratic J.R. Smith.
Of course the Celtics won't stop trying just because almost everyone views Golden State-Cleveland as a Finals formality. Yet the Cavaliers comfortably remain in the driver's seat.
But fire up those tweets and takes about how James' legacy is tarnished because he'll need five games to punch his seventh-consecutive NBA Finals ticket.