BOSTON – The only thing that seemed to roar louder than the Garden crowd was Marcus Morris.
Boston’s brash forward had spilled beyond the baseline finishing a third-quarter layup through the contact of Tristan Thompson and now, sitting at the feet of Boston Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck in a game that would soon be tied, Morris turned towards Thompson lying next to him and repeatedly screamed directly in his face.
The sequence lit a fuse that had been dampened by the first-quarter offensive barrage of a clearly motivated LeBron James. But as these fearless and relentless Celtics had done so often this season, Boston calmly overcame a double-digit deficit and, fueled by their third-quarter surge, emerged with a gritty 107-94 triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
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The Celtics will have three days to sit on a 2-0 series lead. Game 3 is Saturday in Cleveland.
Teams that win the first two games of a best-of-seven series have gone on to win 95 percent of their series.
Jaylen Brown scored a team-high 23 points, while Al Horford added 15 points and 10 rebounds. James finished with a triple-double, scoring 42 points on 16-of-29 shooting, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out 12 assists.
Moments after Morris’ exultation, Marcus Smart, whose hustle and energy proved vital throughout the game, hit a go-ahead 3-pointer. Feeding off the building momentum, Brown’s hustle prevented Thompson from chasing down an offensive rebound and Terry Rozier broke out the other way before throwing down an emphatic tomahawk jam before James could close on a potential chasedown.
The Celtics improved to 9-0 this postseason at TD Garden, where they’ve routinely fed off the energy of a crowd that keeps upping its ante. Boston’s third-quarter surge produced decibel levels on par with that seen in the Celtics’ Game 2 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in which the team overcame a 22-point deficit and later raved about the noise inside the building.
Early on, it seemed as if this night would belong to James and the Cavaliers. Limited to 15 points in Cleveland’s Game 1 loss, James needed just 7:34 to eclipse his scoring output from Sunday’s opener. His first-quarter barrage crescendoed with an utterly absurd late-clock fadeaway 3-pointer in front of the Cavaliers bench that helped Cleveland open as much as an 11-point first-half lead.
But it might have been the hustle of Smart near the end of the first half that gave the Celtics life after the Cavaliers led by double digits with under four minutes to play in the second quarter.
Smart’s steal and feed of Morris with 17.2 seconds remaining in the half helped Boston narrow its deficit to seven and gave the team confidence heading into the intermission.
Rozier took over in the third quarter, scoring 14 points in the frame (his playoff career high for a single quarter), and helping the Celtics outscore the Cavs 36-22, which decidedly swung the game in Boston’s favor.