Cavs most to blame for brutal Game 3 loss to Celtics

Tony Nguyen | Boston Celtics
May 12, 2024

The Cleveland Cavaliers are continuing their intense second-round matchup in the 2024 NBA Playoffs. The Cavs lost Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal 106-93 to a reenergized Boston Celtics team. Many factors went into Cleveland’s brutal loss, but the play of Darius Garland, Max Strus, and parts of the team’s offensive performance are the primary culprits.

Cleveland entered Game 3 off the high of their thrilling 118-94 Game 2 victory over Boston on May 9th. Donovan Mitchell was firing on all cylinders, and he received tremendous help from the Cavs’ bench and role players. Mitchell had another standout performance on Saturday night, but the Celtics prevented others from aiding him.

Boston came into the game with a hunger to improve from their last subpar showing. Derrick White and Jrue Holiday did not play up their ability, but they answered the call in Game 3. After scoring four and 10 points respectively in Game 2, White and Holiday tallied 18 and 12 on Saturday night.

Their efforts cleared the way for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to put on a display that was hard for Cleveland to stop. Tatum amassed 33 points, while Brown supported with 28. The Celtics stars brought the heat, but the Cavs had standout contributions as well.

Donovan Mitchell amassed a team-high 33 points along with six rebounds, and six assists. He was helped by Evan Mobley and Caris LeVert, who scored 15 and 17 points respectively. Cleveland’s scoring was not enough to push them over the hump. While their shooting was a slight improvement from Game 2, they needed to be better on the boards.

The Celtics outrebounded the Cavs 44-35, which made a big difference in possessions toward the end of the game. Speaking of big differences, there is one player Cleveland continually needs more from to increase their chances of success.

How can the Cavs get Darius Garland to erupt offensively?

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland (10) holds a towel to his eye
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Garland can take the Cavs to a new level offensively. His 2023-24 regular season scoring average of 18.0 points per game is his lowest since 2020-21. Yet, the star guard is capable of erupting for well over 20 points at any moment.

Garland has scored 15 points or less in the first three games against the Celtics. He finished with 15 on Saturday night and struggled from the field. Garland shot 40 percent overall and went one for six on three-pointers. The 24-year-old has to find a way to heat up like he did in his All-Star days to help Cleveland overcome their offensive woes.

Garland is taking the right steps by attempting shots. Now, he just needs to knock them down. There is one key sharpshooter who could inspire Garland to go on a high-scoring performance and snap his cold streak.

Cleveland needs Max Strus to be on target to excel 

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Max Strus (1) drives the ball against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

There seems to be a correlation between Max Strus’ offensive success and the Cavs’ winning percentage. When Strus is on target, Cleveland has a better chance at victory. This has become evident from two key games: Game 7 against the Orlando Magic and Game 2 against the Celtics.

In the final game against Orlando, Strus scored 12 points and shot a red-hot 50 percent from deep range. The Cavs won the game 106-94. Then, Struss totaled 12 points again in Thursday night’s 118-94 win over Boston.

Strus gives the Cavs a special boost when he scores close to or greater than his regular season average of 12.2 points per game. He notched just six points in Game 3 against the Celtics. He must continue to shoot with accuracy for the Cavs to rally and regain the series momentum.

Many thought the Celtics would dominate the Cavs in the second round, but Cleveland proved they would not make things easy. If the Cavaliers address their culprits of defeat, they can even the series in Game 4.