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Believe it or not, Celtics stage historic comeback

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

May 22, 2017 01:44 AM
Avery Bradley's last-second 3-pointer Sunday night stunned the Cleveland Cavaliers, who closed as 16½-point favorites in Game 3 of the East finals.
© USA Today Sports Images

Again showing the NBA is a theater of the absurd, Avery Bradley fired a last-second 3-pointer that bounced on the rim four times before dropping in and flooring the Cleveland Cavaliers and everyone else.

The past two games of the Eastern Conference finals were so incredibly bizarre, a research crew from “Ripley's Believe It or Not!” would not believe it.

Two days after falling by 44 points on their home floor, and losing their leading scorer to an injury in the process, the Boston Celtics pulled off an historic upset Sunday night.

Trailing by 21 points midway through the third quarter, and with the best player on the planet on the other side, the Celtics rallied for a 111-108 victory that was improbable, to say the least.

“Tell me somebody who knows what’s going on. I’m flabbergasted,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “What are you supposed to say? There is no answer.”

The Cavaliers closed as 16½-point favorites and minus-3,500 on the moneyline — after opening at minus-2,500 — in a Game 3 that was supposed to be a foregone conclusion.

Vaccaro said the South Point took approximately $20,000 in moneyline wagers on the game, with most of it tied to Cleveland and “absolutely nothing significant” on the underdog at plus-1,900. The largest point-spread wager, Vaccaro said, was for $30,000 on Cleveland at minus-16.

John Murray, a Westgate sports book oddsmaker, said the Celtics attracted “just some nibbles here and there at 18-1.”

The Twitter account for William Hill sports books reported its biggest moneyline bet on Boston was for $1,000 at plus-1,700.

The Cavaliers closed as 12-point favorites in the first half and covered that line with a 66-50 halftime lead, yet still lost the game.

“Tell me how that is possible,” Vaccaro said.

It became possible because LeBron James, who was setting the world on fire by scoring at least 30 points in eight straight playoff games, imploded in the second half. He failed to score in the final 16½ minutes and finished with 11 points and six turnovers.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the largest blown lead of James’ playoff career. His teams were 49-0 when leading by 20 points or more.

It became possible because the Cavaliers made 14 3-pointers in the first half and only two in the second half.

It became possible because Marcus Smart, starting for injured leading scorer Isaiah Thomas, sank seven 3s and scored 27 points.

It became possible because Celtics coach Brad Stevens designed a perfectly executed play out of a timeout to get Bradley free for the winning shot.

There was a bigger upset last year. The Lakers were 17½-point underdogs when they stunned the Golden State Warriors 112-95 in Los Angeles on March 6, 2016. That game marked the first time in NBA history a team with a winning percentage of .900 or better played a team below .200 after 60 games.

The Celtics’ upset of the Cavaliers was one for the history books, too. It was the largest upset in the NBA this season and, according to ESPN Stats & Info, the largest in the past 20 postseasons.

Cleveland’s 13-game win streak in the playoffs, which tied the 1988-89 Lakers for the longest in NBA history, was stopped cold with one big punch that James never saw coming.

Of course, this one hurt because the Cavaliers and Warriors will not both be 12-0 in the playoffs when they open the NBA Finals on June 1.

Cleveland-Golden State still will happen for a third consecutive year. James and his posse will just have to play an extra game in the East finals before getting there.

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