CLEVELAND -- At first glance, the sight of Avery Bradley's 3-point attempt in the waning seconds of Game 3 doesn't come to mind as the perfect shot.
Bradley's shot left his hands with about 2.8 seconds remaining. It bounced off different parts of the rim four times, and it didn't roll into the basket until there was 0.1 seconds to go.
Not enough time for LeBron James and the Cavaliers to rescue themselves from a pitiful end.
"Thank God it's bouncing on the rim because that's taking time," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "If it goes in or doesn't go in, they have a timeout left. So when it bounced around, I was actually hoping it went in, obviously, but not completely disappointed that it was bouncing up there."
Cleveland leads the series 2-1. Game 4 will be Tuesday in Quicken Loans Arena.
Celtics star Isaiah Thomas is out for the remainder of the postseason because of a hip injury, and the Cavs had lost just one game at home to an Eastern team in the playoffs dating to 2015.
However, Thomas' replacement, Marcus Smart, scored a career-high 27 points and handed out seven assists, and Bradley had 20 points. Al Horford added 16 points, Jae Crowder amassed 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Kelly Olynyk contributed 15 off the bench for the Celtics, who were beaten by an average of 28.5 points in the first two games.
When the two teams left Boston after Game 2, the Cavs had beaten the Celtics by 44 points for the most lopsided win in Eastern finals history.
"We've got guys that have chips on their shoulders," Stevens said. "A lot of these guys have been overlooked, and this is their first opportunity to really play a meaningful role.
"We knew that Friday was a (44)-point disaster, worth one (game). It wasn't worth four."
The Cavs led by as many as 21 points in the third quarter Sunday, but they shot 2-for-17 from 3-point range in the second half. The Celtics made 18 3-pointers for the game.
Cleveland also committed 16 turnovers that Boston turned into 14 points. The Celtics gave the ball away nine times, leading to five Cavaliers points.
"You let a team grab momentum like that, you almost know that last shot is going in," James said. "It was like, you already knew. As soon as the ball went out of his hands, you kind of knew that shot was going to go in because of how the game was just played throughout the second half."
James was ineffective, scoring just 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting with six turnovers. He was held scoreless in the fourth quarter and was limited to three points in the second half.
"I didn't have it," James said.
Cleveland blew a chance to set a playoff record for consecutive wins (14) dating to Game 5 of last year's Finals. The Cavs also squandered an opportunity to become the fourth team in history to start the playoffs 11-0.
"I feel some adversity is all part of the postseason," James said. "I feel like you have to have some type of adversity in order to be successful. If it was going to happen, let it happen now; let us regroup. Let us regroup, and all the narrative and everything that was going on, let's regroup and let's get back to playing desperate basketball, which they did tonight. So we've got to be a lot better, for sure."
NOTES: Cavs F LeBron James won the J. Walter Kennedy citizenship award, given by the writers who cover pro basketball to a player, coach or athletic trainer who shows outstanding service and dedication to the community. ... Celtics coach Brad Stevens said G Isaiah Thomas (right hip injury) would travel outside of Boston to undergo further examination Monday to determine if surgery is needed. ... Stevens also said the Cavs' 130-86 win in Game 2 -- the largest margin of victory ever in an Eastern finals game -- "may have been the best game I've ever seen a team play against us, at least in my time in the NBA." ... Cleveland entered Game 3 leading NBA playoff teams in field-goal percentage (.433), 3-point percentage (.433), offensive rating (119.4) and 3-pointers per game (14.5). ... In addition to G Marcus Smart, Amir Johnson also rejoined the Boston lineup after being replaced by Gerald Green in Game 2. Johnson scored two points in nine minutes, while Green scored five points in seven minutes.