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Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James dunks against the Boston Celtics during the second half in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. The Cavaliers defeated the Celtics, 103-95. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

LeBron, Cavs push Celtics to brink

BOSTON — LeBron James and his pals were simply too much for the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.

The Cleveland Cavaliers moved within one game of advancing in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 103-95 win over the Celtics.

The Cavaliers, seeded No. 2 in the East, can complete the expected four-game sweep of the feisty seventh-seeded Celtics on Sunday and then advance to meet the winner of the Chicago Bulls-Milwaukee Bucks series.

TD Garden fans turned out in force for the first home playoff game in two years and were loud throughout. But the Cavs answered every call and cruised to their third straight win in the series.

James, booed every time he touched the ball, seemed to dominate whenever he wanted. Content to pace himself throughout, he turned it on when he had to, finishing with 31 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals. He was 13 of 26 from the floor and also blocked two shots.

Forward Kevin Love had 23 points and nine rebounds, guard J.R. Smith added 15 points and forward Tristan Thompson had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Cavs. Guard Kyrie Irving, who scored 56 points in the two games in Cleveland, had a poor shooting night (3 of 11 from the floor) and finished with 13 points and six assists.

Guards Evan Turner and Avery Bradley led the Celtics with 19 and 18 points, respectively. Forward Jae Crowder came off the bench with 16 points and seven boards.

Guard Isaiah Thomas, the spark plug off the Boston bench who had 22 points in each of the first two games and was averaging 21.7 points in the last eight games, scored only five points and saw little action in the second half. Thomas finished with 21:08 of playing time, going 2 of 9 from the floor, 0 of 3 from 3-point range.

The Cavaliers led by nine 2½ minutes into the second quarter, but the Celtics pushed back. The home team ran off nine straight points to take its first lead at 40-38 midway through the quarter.

The Celtics built their lead to four points but didn’t score in the final 2:24 as Cleveland ran off its 12 straight, the last six by James.

In the first quarter, the Celtics intentionally fouled Thompson three straight times to allow him to shoot free throws. He was 1 of 4 the first two trips and then hit the last two.

In the second quarter, the physical contest got more physical. Boston forward Jonas Jerebko hammered Irving to the floor and when Cleveland’s Smith stepped in, Smith got the technical foul. Later in the second quarter, Turner threw James to the floor and received a Flagrant One after review.

Notes: James played his first playoff game at TD Garden since he had 45 points and 15 rebounds for Miami in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals. That forced a Game 7, won by the Heat. ... Cleveland coach David Blatt, who hails from nearby Framingham, said he grew up a Celtics fan listening to legendary voice Johnny Most on the radio. ... Jerebko, who sat out the first half of Game 2 with a calf issue, reported he was feeling much better. “Today it feels good,” he said. ... Even though Boston’s bench, led by Thomas, outscored its counterpart 51-7 in Game 2, coach Brad Stevens saw no reason to change his starting lineup but hinted at a different rotation.


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