Celtics Ride Huge 3rd Quarter to Take 2-0 Lead over LeBron James, Cavaliers

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2018

BOSTON, MA - MAY 15:  Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics gestures after making a basket in the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Two of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 15, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics absorbed a haymaker from LeBron James and still managed to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 107-94, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on Tuesday night. 

The Celtics trailed by seven entering halftime, but a 36-point third-quarter provided the spark they needed to jump ahead for good and seize a 2-0 series lead. 

Jaylen Brown led Boston with 23 points, while Terry Rozier dropped 14 of his 18 points in the game's pivotal period to counteract another one of James' signature postseason performances. 

In 39 minutes, LeBron finished with 42 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for his third triple-double of the playoffs. 

Here's a look at the storylines that defined Game 2.

     

Reminder: LeBron Is a Cheat Code 

It turns out Game 1 was an aberration after all. 

While LeBron appeared uncharacteristically passive Sunday afternoon as he dealt with a swarm of different defenders, he used every piece of his offensive skill set Tuesday to put the Celtics on their heels early. 

James erupted for 21 first-quarter points—the Celtics scored 23 as a team over that stretch—and he drilled four threes in the frame after missing all five of his attempts in the series opener:

However, James' first-half flow was halted late in the second quarter when he collided with Jayson Tatum's shoulder and made a trip back to the locker room. 

James was cleared after being diagnosed with a strained neck, according to ESPN's Doris Burke, but the Cavaliers never created the separation necessary to make the Celtics sweat despite his fifth 40-point effort of the postseason. 

      

Another Reminder: The Cavs Defense Is a Mess

If you're looking for a reason why James' effort went to waste, look no further than the Cavaliers' second-half defense. 

There were mental lapses galore, failed rotations all over the perimeter and the return of laziness that fans became well-acquainted with during the regular season when the Cavaliers ranked 29th in defensive rating:

That incompetence spawned a third quarter that saw the Celtics outscore the Cavs, 36-22, and it put Cleveland in far too big of a hole to climb out of despite quality outings from Kevin Love (22 points, 15 rebounds) and Kyle Korver (11 points). 

       

Jaylen Brown Looks Like a Star

At the start of the season, it would have been a win for the Celtics if Brown settled into a comfortable niche as a role player. 

Now, it looks like he could be blossoming into a full-blown star. 

The Celtics swingman continued to display a fearless disposition on both ends of the floor, and his athleticism stood out as he blew past defenders while making determined trips to the rack: 

Against a Cavaliers defense that has too often found itself flat-footed, an athlete of Brown's caliber will remain a handful to deal with. 

And as if that wasn't bad enough, Boston's starting backcourt of Brown and Rozier outscored the Cavaliers' competing duo of JR Smith and George Hill, 41-3. 

Advantage: Celtics. 

      

Marcus Smart Is a Bad Man

Marcus Smart has never been one to fill up the scoring column. That was true again Tuesday, when he finished with 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting. 

But none of that should matter. 

As he's so often been for the Celtics during their improbable run, Smart served as a spark plug of the highest order off the bench in Game 2. He racked up nine assists, five rebounds and four steals—two more than Cleveland had as a team. 

The Celtics also outscored the Cavs by 21 points during his 31 minutes on the floor. 

"We have to find someone to match his toughness," Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said afterward, according to the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy

They do—and fast. 

      

What's Next? 

The series shifts to Cleveland. Game 3 will tip off at 8:30 p.m. ET on Saturday from Quicken Loans Arena. 

       

Stats courtesy of NBA.com unless noted otherwise.  

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