To have three guys back on defense with Jeff Green coming at them on the fast break, it couldn’t have gone much worse for the Cavaliers, and LeBron James’s reaction said as much.
He had Kevin Love on one side and Dion Waiters on the other as he backpedaled, but somehow he still ended up one-on-one with Green with no choice but to foul and send Green to the free throw line.
He threw his hands up and yelled, at no one in particular, “One man.”
While Green was at the line, James drifted off toward the scorer’s table, shaking his head, rolling his eyes, and burying his face in his jersey.
His team was in an 8-point hole that would stretch to 17 by the end of the third quarter, and after a night full of up-and-down basketball James seemed to reach a tipping point with his team’s breakdowns on defense.
It was a symptom of a problem the Cavaliers will spend the season sorting through.
Eight games in, Cleveland looked like a team still trying to find chemistry to match its talent.
But for as crossed as the Cavaliers’ wires seemed in their 122-121 win over the Celtics on Friday night at TD Garden, Cleveland had the kind of talent to mask those problems until its chemistry caught up.
Talent cut an 18-point Celtics lead early in the fourth quarter in half in a mere two minutes with a trio of 3-pointers (difficulty level: 10) from Kyrie Irving.
It countered counter the Celtics’ 54 percent shooting from the floor by getting to the line 37 times.
It overcame the seven players the Celtics put in double figures (led by Kelly Olynyk’s 21) and Rajon Rondo’s 16 assists and eight rebounds.
And it took over the game in the final quarter.
With 1:11 left and the Cavaliers down 1, James put his head down, gave Green a hook move, and made a burst to the basket for a layup that put his team ahead, getting fouled in the process. James knocked down the free throw to put the Cavs up, 120-118.
Even after Green hit a pair of free throws with 43 seconds left to tie it at 121, James (41 points) got to the rim again, drew a foul on Rondo, and split his free throws to put Cleveland up for good.