CLEVELAND — They have come to be known as the non-Brons — the role players who fill the roster and the other three spots on the floor around Cleveland superstar LeBron James and All-Star forward Kevin Love — and they came up big Friday night during the Cavaliers’ 109-99 win against the Boston Celtics.
They were definitely needed, too, as Love left the game with a head injury just five minutes into the game, and because the victory tied the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals series at three games apiece with the deciding Game 7 coming Sunday in Boston.
Point guard George Hill was the biggest help of the starting five, finishing with
20 points on 7-for-12 shooting (.583) with three rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
Hill was the biggest reason the starting five played the Celtics almost evenly as he and starting shooting guard J.R. Smith finished with a minus-1 on the plus/minus rating.
“We as role guys have to take it upon ourselves to give it all we’ve got,” Hill said. “We have to come out and be ready to play from jump ball.”
The non-Brons on the bench provided a huge boost in the second quarter — when Cleveland went from a 25-20 deficit after one quarter to a 54-43 halftime lead.
“I thought we had a scrappy unit out there,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought they did a great job defensively and I think that’s what got us back in the game.”
Forward Jeff Green, who was pressed into action when Love went down, finished with 14 points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in 31 minutes, while Kyle Korver and Jordan Clarkson each added six points.
But the biggest spark was provided by forward Larry Nance Jr., whose only mistake in the game was falling backward on James’ leg early in the fourth quarter.
Nance was 5-for-5 from the field for 10 points, grabbed seven rebounds — four offensive — and finished with an assist and two steals.
“Guys like that are very athletic, always on the offensive glass,” Celtics point guard Terry Rozier said. “It’s really tough to keep them off (the glass). They got a lot of second-chance points tonight.”
Missing from the final box score was the non-stop energy and handful of hustle plays that Nance provided that kept the Quicken Loans Arena crowd on its feet and James energized despite playing a game-high 46 minutes.
“I think we were up seven and LeBron took a three and missed it and Larry came in there with a tip-dunk to put us up by nine … that was a huge play,” Lue said. “We needed that spark tonight and everyone collectively came together to give it to us.”
James led the Cavs with a plus-15 rating, but the four bench players weren’t far behind: Clarkson was plus-11, Green and Nance were plus-10 and Korver was plus-8.
Besides the ratings and point totals, the second unit provided some momentum-building moments, such as Clarkson’s fearless drives into the paint or Korver emphatically winning a jump ball against Boston’s 6-foot-10 center Aron Baynes.
“They responded exceptionally well,” James said. “That second unit just gave us a huge boost ... and obviously we needed it more than ever tonight with the situation we were in.”
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