June 30, 2016

Mostly sunny

West comes up huge

CLEVELAND — It was a turn for the best as far as the Cavaliers were concerned Friday night in their huge 74-69 Game 6 win over the Celtics at The Q.

When the Cavs forced Boston’s Paul Pierce into a turnover at midcourt as the final seconds of the first half ticked away, it seemed to be merely a great defensive play that prevented the Celtics from even getting a chance to cut into the six-point lead the Cavs expected to take into halftime..

Then Delonte West decided to make that turnover a whole lot more meaningful.

The Cavs point guard scooped the ball up, bolted down the court, somehow maintaining possession of the ball as he semi-stumbled, then propelled himself forward as he launched a running 3-pointer that rattled home just as the buzzer sounded.

After the referees gave the shot the thumbs up following the required once-over via replay, the Cavs somehow had a 42-33 halftime lead after an ugly, almost unwatchable half of basketball.

“Those are the momentum plays,” West said of the 3-pointer. “Those are daggers, even if they come early in the game. All that has an effect on the opposing team. That’s what we have to take away from them in Game 7.”

West said luck had little to do with his buzzer-beater, though he did laugh when he started to say he makes those shots all the time.

“I got a good look at it,” he said of the shot. “I feel confident in my shot, absolutely. It came off good..”

Still, that first half was ugly. How ugly? Let’s count the ways.

The Cavs led by nine despite shooting 32 percent from the field (12-of-37).

They led despite committing eight turnovers to just five assists.

And they had that nice cushion despite superstar LeBron James turning in one of his worst halves, which is saying something considering how poorly he played the first two games of this series.

For the half, James had five turnovers to just three assists and shot just 2-for-9.

But the lead was nine because West’s buzzer-beating three had capped a 17-2 Cavs’ run to close the half, turning a moribund 24 minutes into a mountain of momentum heading into the second half.

It was momentum the Cavs carried over into the second half when James reeled off the first seven points of the third quarter on a 3-pointer, an acrobatic jumper in the lane and a pair of free throws after another impossible-looking jumper nearly fell.

James’ spree pushed the Cavs’ amazing game-changing run to 24-2 and their lead to 49-33 and he ended up with 32 points and 12 rebounds (both game-highs) and had six assists to go with eight turnovers.

“We came out in the third quarter and did what we’ve been lacking most of our third quarters,” West said. “We tok it to them.”

Still, it was hardly game over. The Celtics reeled off a 15-2 run of their own in the third quarter to cut the lead to three, but the Cavs put together another 10-0 run at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth.

Even then, it was white-knuckle time down the stretch.

“You have to give credit to the defenses of both teams,” West said. “There really are no easy shots to come by.”

Except maybe those running threes just before the buzzer sounds.

Aprile may be reached at kaprile@chroniclet.com or 440-329-7136.