CLEVELAND – Nobody said sending LeBron James home for the summer – and maybe for the last time as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers – was going to be easy.
Boston played its best road game in this series on Friday night, even leading after the first quarter which has often meant victory.
But James and the Cavs live to fight for another day following their 109-99 Game 6 win which has us at a winner-take-all Game 7 in Boston on Sunday.
James had a near triple-double of 46 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists which included back-to-back 3-pointers that gave Cleveland a 107-96 lead with 1:40 to play that pretty much sealed the Cavaliers win.
Boston was led by Terry Rozier’s 28 points and Jaylen Brown who had 27.
Despite spending all of the second half trailing, Boston had its moments when they were a basket away from putting real pressure on the Cavs.
Trailing 97-90, Marcus Smart out-wrestled James for a loose ball that led to a transition scoring opportunity for Brown whose 3-pointer hit the back of the rim and bounced out.
There were about four minutes left to play when Brown missed the 3-pointer, but Boston could not get any closer the rest of the way.
Boston held its own with the Cavs for most of the third quarter, but that won’t cut it when looking at a double-digit lead Cleveland refused to relinquish.
And leading the charge was James who played every single second of the game until there were 57.3 seconds to play in the third quarter and 57.0 seconds to play with Cleveland ahead 109-97.
Boston made the most of James on the bench, scoring six of the last nine points of the quarter to trim Cleveland’s lead to 83-73 going into the fourth.
Cleveland pulled ahead 38-33 in the second quarter courtesy of a 14-3 run, with a chance to add to it when James was fouled on a drive towards the basket with just over six minutes to play in the second quarter.
The Cavs continued to surge ahead until Brad Stevens had seen enough and called a time-out with 4:59 to play in the half and the Celtics looking up at a 44-34 deficit.
Cleveland would push its lead to as many as 14 points before settling in for a 54-43 lead at the half.
Boston’s struggles in the first half boiled down to them being too predictable offensively following a 3-pointer by Marcus Smart that increased the Celtics’ lead to 30-24.
Between ill-timed 3-point attempts and turnovers, Boston slowly lost control of the game and with that, the lead.
Cleveland’s strong showing in the second quarter came on the heels of a first quarter that saw them lose one of their top players, just minutes into the game.
Boston had a 10-6 lead when Kevin Love and Jayson Tatum collided as Tatum tried to fight through a screen.
Tatum was dazed on the play but was able to stay on his feet.
Love fell to the ground after the incident and eventually rose to his feet with the help of the Cavs medical staff which did a preliminary evaluation of him on the bench.
Moments later, Love was headed back to the locker room for additional concussion-related tests.
At the half, team officials said Love was still be evaluated for a concussion and that he would not return for Game 6.
His absence certainly factored into the play for the rest of the quarter which ended with Boston ahead 25-20.