x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

NBA: LeBron James effort in vain as Celtics pull series back to 2-1

The Miami star scores 34 points in the defeat in Boston in Game 3 of the NBA's Eastern Conference finals.

Le Bron James, centre, scored 34 points but his Miami Heat lost Game 3 to the Boston Celtics.
Le Bron James, centre, scored 34 points but his Miami Heat lost Game 3 to the Boston Celtics.

BOSTON// LeBron James has had too many nights like this, where he couldn't get enough help for long stretches of the game.

It is just that most of them were back in Cleveland.

He is not counting on Chris Bosh for Game 4, which means Dwyane Wade and Miami's role players will have to get back to the way they've been playing since Bosh was injured.

"We've played great ball since he's been out in Game 1 of the last round," James said. "Guys have stepped up in his absence and guys will have to continue to step up in his absence. We don't know when Chris will be back. We're not going into the next game hoping that he's going to be there or whatever the case may be. We've got to prepare like he's not playing. We'll prepare for Game 4 like he's not playing."

With a quiet first half from Wade and little contributions from any other starter, James' 34 points were wasted in a 101-91 loss on Friday night that cut the Heat's lead over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals to 2-1.

Bosh seems closer to returning from injury, and for the first time since early in the last round, the Heat look like they need him. Game 4 is Sunday in Boston.

James had 30 points through three quarters, the rest of his teammates managing only 33. He had 14 of their 26 field goals at that point as the Heat dug themselves a 22-point hole through three, too big to climb out of even with a big fourth quarter.

"I can't speak for everyone else, but LeBron was very aggressive," Wade said. "Our offensive rhythm wasn't necessarily there as much, we didn't make as many shots as we wanted to, but he kept us afloat."

Wade finished with 18 points and Mario Chalmers had 14, but many of those came in a fourth-quarter comeback that never got particularly close. Wade's streak of 12 straight 20-point games against the Celtics in the postseason, longest since Jerry West did it 18 straight times from 1966-69, was snapped after he shot 9 of 20.

"They were very aggressive trying to get the ball out of his hands, and the ball was moving at times," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who denied there was anything wrong with Wade. "We still need ways to get it back to him at the second or third ball movement."

He did not attempt a free throw for the first time in a playoff game since his rookie year of 2004. James took only five, making one, as the Heat were 10 of 20 as a team.

"We'll be more aggressive and find ways to get to the rim and to the free throw line next game," Spoelstra said.

There was no hint of any trouble early for the Heat, who were shooting nearly 70 per cent from the field in the first quarter and had a six-point lead. Suddenly they went cold, going scoreless for about 7 minutes while the Celtics ran off 15 straight points to go ahead 37-28 with 7:47 remaining in the second period.

The deficit grew to 13 points at halftime, when Wade was just 3 of 9 for six points. The Heat were just 5 of 18 (28 per cent) in the second quarter, with Wade missing six of his eight attempts.

The Heat, with youth and athleticism on their side, remained a force whenever they got in transition. But they stalled beyond James in the halfcourt for long stretches, settling for jumpers.

That's where Bosh would help. The Heat often throw it into him and move to open spots to begin their offence, and he is one of their best shooters. Certainly better than Shane Battier, his replacement in the starting line-up who missed all six shot attempts, some of them nowhere close.

The Heat are still saying Bosh is out indefinitely with the lower abdominal strain he sustained in Game 1 of the second-round series with Indiana. He travelled with Miami to Boston and took part the Heat's morning workout Friday, but they didn't do much so it's hard to gauge any progress by that.

Spoelstra said the All-Star forward will be re-evaluated daily, but wouldn't say if that meant he would be able to play in Game 4. Though the Heat know they would need him for any shot at a championship, they had played so well behind a dynamic two-man game from James and Wade that it seemed they had overcome a dependence on Bosh.

"Probably the biggest confidence-builder for our basketball team was the mere fact that for the last two years we simply couldn't win without Chris, but we simply couldn't play effectively without Chris. He was our most important player," Spoelstra said before the game.

James is now, but he can't do it alone. That didn't work against the Celtics when he was still in Cleveland, and it wasn't enough when he was forced to do it for too long on Friday.