Reports of the Cavaliers’ demise are greatly exaggerated.
Instead of spending a couple of days obsessing over their obituary, the Cleveland Cavaliers spent their downtime feasting on home cooking and reminding themselves that they’re an elite basketball team vying for a championship. And so, on Thursday, they found themselves on the high side of a 120-90 beatdown in which they held each of the Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers to fewer than 20 points for the third game in a row.
All those adjectives that were used to describe how dominant the Warriors were in the first two games? Strike that, reverse it. The Cavs took a 2-0 lead on a Kyrie Irving jumper a minute into play, and never looked back. Ninety seconds later, after a pair of Klay Thompson misses, and turnovers by both Thompson and Steph Curry, the lead was up to 9-0, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr was calling for a timeout. By the time the buzzer sounded on the first quarter, Irving and the Warriors were tied at 16, and the rest of the Cavs had scored another 17, for a 33-16 Cleveland lead.
After making just 6 of 17 in the first quarter, the Warriors were bound to bounce back a bit, and they did, hitting on 9 of 15 in the second quarter, and opening with a 7-point run that got them back within shouting distance at 33-23, and then needing another run of 8-0 to get back to 48-41, before finishing the half down 51-43. The Warriors comeback was aided largely by LeBron James, who hit on just 1 of 8 for the period, and no doubt had Clevelanders tearing out their hair thinking “Not again. Not again.”
In the third, LeBron would find his shot, and the Cavs would start to pull away. With the Cavs up 60-46, James would sink a 21-footer, then from 20, 25, 20, 15… The biggest shot he made was the shortest, however, as with 2:52 to play, he blocked a Curry pass, scrambled to the floor to collect it, dished to Irving on the left side of the lane and then went straight down the right side, taking flight in time to grab an alley-oop from Irving and bury it home to go up 79-59. James finished the third quarter with 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field and a pair of free throws, as the Cavs took an 89-69 lead at the end of three, the final two points coming on a pass from James to Richard Jefferson for an emphatic dunk:
Suffice to say, the Warriors’ collective heart wasn’t in it come the final quarter, as Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green combined to hit on just 1 of 2 shots, and the Cavs opened things up by hitting a pair of 3s to stretch the lead to 95-69 with about 10 minutes to play.
After a do-everything Game 2 in which he went 28-7-5, Draymond Green plummeted to Earth Thursday, with a 6-7-7, on a night when he hit just 2 of 8 from the floor and 2 of 4 from the free throw line. Curry, for his part, is in danger of getting a reputation if he doesn’t show up for this series. For all the well deserved accolades, including the unanimous MVP award, the fact is that in these Finals, he’s averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 turnovers, while shooting just 44% from the floor – those are some Victor Oladipo numbers – but with more turnovers.
James was a beast, going 32-11-6, though he again had 5 turnovers, and Irving finally got going, with a 30-4-8 night. Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, finally got involved, as well, with 14-13 and 20-4, respectively. Kevin Love was a DNP, as he apparently failed to meet the criteria of health for the league’s concussion protocol, but Jefferson filled in ably, scoring 9 points on 4-of-7 shooting and grabbing 8 boards.
Will Love play in Game 4? Who knows, but the issue is inspiring headlines like “Cavs Must Bring Kevin Love Off The Bench In Game 4 Of The NBA Finals”, “Kevin Love’s absence looms large over Cavaliers in Finals”, “Let’s face the facts: The Cavs are better against the Warriors without Kevin Love”, and “Richard Jefferson played well in Kevin Love’s absence. Now what?” Play the hot hand, and if it stops working, get Love back out there. Honestly, which is more likely, that Jefferson was the X-factor that could’ve made the Cavs world beaters, or that Love had a couple of bad games and may not be 100%? Why is this so hard? Rumor has it that Love will be ready to go, and that he will start the game on the bench.