Despite playing without Isaiah Thomas, the Boston Celtics handed the Cleveland Cavaliers their first loss of the postseason Sunday, beating the Cavs, 111-108, to pull within 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
So, in review, the Celtics were blown out in two games with Thomas but won Game 3 without him.
Is Boston better with Thomas on the bench?
“No, the Celtics are the No. 1 seed because of Isaiah Thomas making big shot after big shot and leading this team,” former NBA coach and current NBA analyst Mike Fratello said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “What happened last night happens often in the NBA. A key guy goes down (and everyone else steps up). Look at San Antonio. When Kawhi (Leonard) went down . . . they came back and played a terrific 30, 35 of the 48 minutes in (Game 3) and held the lead against Golden State. The rest of the guys all stepped up and did more.”
Only Boston did what San Antonio couldn’t: actually win the game. Marcus Smart finished with a team-high 27 points and a team-high seven assists, while Avery Bradley hit the game-winning three-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining.
“Marcus Smart had one of those games where he’s inserted as a starter rather than coming off the bench,” Fratello said. “He winds up – not known to be a shooter – hitting seven threes in the game last night. It’s one of those things where they got it going and everybody chipped in.”
Even Jonas Jerebko, who entered the night averaging 1.4 points per game in the playoffs, scored 10 points off the bench. He was a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor, hit two threes, and had five rebounds, one assist, and one block.
“Jerebko comes in and comes up with 10 critical points,” Fratello said. “(He hit) a big jump shot down the stretch, and they wind up sneaking out with a win.”
Boston trailed by 21 in the third quarter but outscored Cleveland 61-42 in the second half. Kyrie Irving (29 points) and Kevin Love (28) played well, but LeBron James struggled throughout, scoring just 11 points for the game and shooting 0-of-6 from the floor in the final 18 minutes.
“The Cavs didn’t have the energy,” Fratello said. “They didn’t have that fire that they had up in Boston.”
They’ll have to rediscover it – and fast. Game 3 is Tuesday in Cleveland at 8:30 p.m. ET.