The Cleveland Cavaliers absolutely dominated Golden State in Game 3 of the NBA Finals Wednesday night, winning 120-90.
How’d they come up with a 63-point swing from a blowout loss in Game 2 to completely change the series? Let’s count the ways:
1. The Cavs came out with way more energy.
Basketball is the only sport where coaches talk about energy and effort as keys to the game, instead of just givens. But when your home crowd is behind you like they were in Cleveland on Wednesday night, you’re going to cut a little bit quicker, move a little faster, and make game-changing plays more often.
The Cavs got a huge night from J.R. Smith (20 points on 7-for-13 shooting, 5-10 from three), and saw Kyrie Irving go off (30 points, 12-25 FG).
Kyrie is a different player at home than he is on the road in the playoffs, and he was the best player on the floor on Wednesday night. His 30 points were more than he scored in Games 1 (17) and 2 (10) combined.
2. They shut the Splash Bros. down.
The Cavs did a tremendous job yet again on Steph and Klay, extending the pick-up point of their defense out well beyond the three-point line, switching on every screen and cuts, and throwing multiple guys at them.
J.R. Smith did a terrific job guarding Thompson, and as he said in the postgame press conference, that was his only focus. “I kind of turn the other part of my brain off,” Smith said. (Yeah, we could see that).
He also compared his defensive approach to that of a defensive back in football, shadowing and cutting off passing lanes for Klay.
“I just focus on trying to be a lock-down corner,” Smith said.
Kyrie Irving had the responsibility of guarding Curry most of the time, but the team did a great job running different (and multiple) guys at him, and making it tough for him to get where he wanted to go with the ball on the perimeter. “I just try to pick Steph up as high as possible,” Irving said. “I’m at the head of the snake, so I try to make it uncomfortable for him, force him where he doesn’t want to go.”
Tristan Thompson used his length and strength to bully Curry when he switched on him, forcing a couple of turnovers. He’s mobile enough to stay with the MVP, and his size and strength caused problems for Curry as he tried to dance around and make plays off the dribble.
Richard Jefferson, who also poured in nine points, did a nice job getting a hand in Curry’s face off of rotations as well.
3. Cleveland’s starters completely dominated the Warriors
The Cavs starters outscored the Warriors 105-57 in the game, and that score was even more lopsided before Curry hit a few garbage-time threes in the fourth. Cleveland’s five jumped out to a 33-14 lead early, and completely dominated when both groups were on the floor.
James and Irving were +24, and J.R. Smith was +33 for the game. For the series, the Cavs’ starters are now +22. That’s a big deal going forward.
4. Steph, once again, wasn’t Steph
Curry had just two points on 1-for-5 shooting at halftime, to go along with three fouls and three turnovers. For the game, he finished with 19 points on 6-13 shooting and 3-of-9 from three.
That’s not the type of performance the Warriors need from their MVP, and if they’re going to win this series, he’s got to be much better. At the very least, he’s got to be more aggressive. 13 shots isn’t going to get it done.
Curry was asked in the postgame press conference whether it was the Cavs’ defense that rattled him, or whether it was him just not playing well:
“Unfortunately, it was all me. They were playing aggressive defense and came out with a big punch. But I didn’t do anything about it, or play my game. For me to do what I need to do to help my team, I need to play 100 times better than I did,” he said.
5. Not having Kevin Love might have worked in Cleveland’s favor
That concussion protocol might get a little bit tougher for Kevin Love before Game 4. Without their enigmatic big man, the Cavs were able to rely on a smaller, more defense-oriented lineup that included starting Richard Jefferson. It paid off, as Cleveland was much better defensively than they’d been all series, and looked like a completely different team than they were in Game 2.
Now, Tyronn Lue has to take a long, hard look at how many minutes he wants to have him on the floor in Game 4. He certainly shouldn’t start, and when it comes down to it, Love should be OK with that. It’s all about winning at this point.