CLEVELAND (AP) — Once he got control of the ball and let his shot fly, Avery Bradley prepared to get mobbed.
The Celtics had pulled off the improbable.
Bradley made a 3-pointer from the corner at the horn to give Boston a stunning 104-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, the Celtics’ eighth win in nine games.
“I knew it was there,” said Bradley, who had to regain his dribble before launching the winner. “It’s a great feeling. I lost the ball for a second and I didn’t even think I had enough time to get the shot off — but I did.”
After blowing a seven-point lead in the last 3 minutes, the Celtics still trailed by four with 7 seconds left before things began to bounce their way.
A little Celtics magic.
Celtics celebrate after guard Avery Bradley sinks the game-winner.
Boston was down 101-96 with 18 seconds remaining before Celtics forward Jae Crowder, who played on a tender ankle, made a 3-pointer — his only basket — and Evan Turner scored on a layup while being fouled by J.R. Smith with 4 seconds to go. Turner missed his free throw but the ball went out of bounds off Cleveland’s LeBron James.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens quickly drew up an inbounds play during a video review. As he took the floor, guard Marcus Smart had a premonition Bradley was about to be a hero.
“I had a feeling it was going in even before he shot it,” Smart said.
The bucket triggered a wild celebration by the young Celtics, who were swept by the Cavs in last year’s playoffs.
LeBron James’ 30 points aren’t enough in Cavs loss.
“In the big picture it does count as one (win), but it gives you a sense you’re improving and getting better,” Stevens said. “For us it would have been disappointing to lose that lead and not come out with a win. They made huge plays late in the game, but our guys stayed poised. To score five points inside 8 seconds is a good deal.”
James scored 30 points to lead the Cavs, who dropped to 5-3 under new coach Tyronn Lue.
Isaiah Thomas scored 22 points and Turner had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Celtics, who are developing into a dangerous team under Stevens.
James scored 13 in the fourth quarter for the Cavs. Cleveland went just 21 of 35 from the free-throw line.
“I can’t describe it,” Lue said. “You just have to step up and make free throws.”
Avery Bradley shoots over Iman Shumpert to win the game for Boston.
The Cavs appeared to be in control when Kyrie Irving, who finished with 19 points, knocked down two free throws to make it 103-99. But Smith inexplicably got too close to Turner and bumped him from behind on his layup, committing his sixth foul. The Cavs then failed to come up with Turner’s missed free throw and the Celtics made them pay.
“They just kept fighting,” Irving said.
The Cavaliers lost Kevin Love in the third quarter with a bruised left thigh. A limping Love had to be helped to the locker room and did not return. He hopes rest and treatment will allow him to play Saturday.
“Smart hit me on the box out and I went right to the floor,” Love said. “For 10 minutes it was just dead leg. I’m optimistic it’s just a thigh bruise. Nothing else.”
Love isn’t having any luck when he runs into the Celtics. He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against them last year in the first round of the playoffs — courtesy of Celtics center Kelly Olynyk — and he may have to miss a few games with his bruise.
Olynyk was booed every time he touched the ball by Cleveland fans, who haven’t forgiven him for yanking Love’s left shoulder from the socket. The injury ended Love’s postseason — he needed nearly six months to recover from surgery — and slowed the Cavs’ NBA title chase.
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