Front rim, back rim, then a bounce straight up in the air, nearly to the top of the backboard. One bounce straight back down onto the rim’s heel, then a slight one-two tap on the front of the rim as the ball dropped through the net.
That’s the path Avery Bradley’s game-winning three-pointer took as it knocked off the Cavaliers in Game 3 in an 111-108 thriller. Just like that, Cleveland’s attempt at advancing to the finals undefeated has been shot, and we now move onto a Game 4 with actual stakes.
Boston couldn’t have won without an enormous effort, something it did even as star Isaiah Thomas is out for the postseason with a hip injury, and even though the team trailed by 21 points in the first half. Game 3 was perhaps the most compelling example of the make-or-miss league that people call the NBA.
In the first half, everything was the Cavaliers. Kevin Love hit seven threes (one shy of a playoff record for a half) and the team had 14, rattling in open looks and contested ones on the other end. At one point on consecutive possessions, Iman Shumpert made contested pull-up jumpers. There was plenty of time on the clock, but Shumpert must have just decided it was scorin’ time for him.
In the second, everything flipped. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens had a feeling that might happen — at halftime, he told TNT sideline reporter Kristen Ledlow that he felt good about the team’s performance and was trusting that the law of averages would work on their side.
It absolutely did, just like Stevens predicted. It’s the law of averages, after all, not some unfounded theory. In the second half, Boston’s shooters heated up, most notably Marcus Smart. The career 29 percent three-point shooter managed to nail seven of them on Sunday, needing only 10 attempts to do so.
Boston had been totally written out of this series after Game 2, and honestly, maybe before it even began. One win doesn’t flip that narrative, but commend the Celtics for doing this without Thomas and with adversity staring at them. First halves like the Cavaliers had are soul crushing. It’s a brutal, nauseous feeling to play near-perfect defense only to have your opponent nail a contested shot anyway, and then do it again, and again, and again.
But in the second half, the Celtics didn’t look rattled, just determined. Sure, they got some help from Cleveland going cold. (That was a bizarre half for LeBron James, too.) It’s like they say, though. It’s a make-or-miss league.
Game 3 showed that, right down to the very last rim-loving, five-bounces-before-dropping-in jumper that sealed it.