The most spectacular play LeBron James made tonight was his pogo-stick leap up to grab a stray Kyrie Irving alley-oop, but if there’s one particular play that embodied the overwhelming beatdown the Cavaliers administered upon the heads of the Warriors, it was one that didn’t even count. Towards the end of a third quarter in which Cleveland scored 38 points and Golden State glazed over and ceded the blowout, Steph Curry tried to toss in a teeny-tiny layup after the buzzer. LeBron rose and stuffed him for no other reason than spiritual domination.
The Cavs put up over 30 in the fourth quarter too and won going away on an eerily clean 120-90 scoreline. Steph Curry had a soggy 19-point, six-turnover, malaise-laden clunker of a game, and nobody on the Warriors really showed up except for Harrison Barnes, somehow. Cleveland blew the doors off of the Warriors early and forced a timeout just 2:30 into the game after they scored the first nine points of the game. It took seven minutes for a Warrior besides Andrew Bogut to score, and it took almost 18 for a Splash brother to score. After terrorizing Cleveland as a smallball center in Game 1 and 2, Draymond Green looked flat from the first possesion of the game, where he pulled up from three feet behind the line and missed badly.
But to list Golden State’s deficiencies without crediting Cleveland would be a disservice. The Cavs, after napping through 48 points worth of blowouts in Oakland, brought it tonight. It’s impossible to tell how much of their improved (or, rather, existent) energy level was because they were at home and how much was because Kevin Love was out with a concussion, but the Cavs were ruinously aggressive and they closed out Golden State’s shooters over the duration of the game, a small Klay Thompson outburst excepted. One one fourth-quarter play, Steph had Tristan Thompson switched onto him, and rather than popping one in hie eye as he’s done all year, he over-dribbled and Thompson knocked it off Curry’s leg for an easy turnover. The Cavs are never going to rush everywhere and fill every passing lane with the omnipotence of the Thunder, but they were just close enough to make Golden State uncomfortable.
The Cavs bench is still a problem, and it took them until the middle of the fourth quarter to score. That isn’t such a glaring deficiency when LeBron and Kyrie Irving both put up over 30, J.R. Smith finally finds his stroke, and Thompson out-muscles every would-be rebounder for easy dunks. Irving has had his validity as a superstar called into question by the media (including our resident Warriors propagandist), but he was the best point guard on the floor tonight. Not only did he score 30 pretty points, but he managed to pass the ball! To his teammates! Kyrie’s still a scorer at heart, but the Cavs are at their best when he can find balance, which he did tonight.
They’re also at their best when they run. Tyronn Lue made a promise to run more, like every coach does when they get hired midseason. It seemed like cliche at the time, but the Cavs are markedly better when they hurry up. Tonight, they pushed the ball up the floor faster and got better shots. Lue has maintained that the Cavs share the ball better when they run, and tonight bore that out.
It helps when your leader, GM, and franchise anchor is as tuned-in as Lebron James was tonight. Dude tore into the Warriors with shocking ease all game long and got his teammates truly fired up to take it to Golden State. Golden State looked overwhelmed and unable to do anything against James’ might.
That said, they have have lost every Game 3 of these NBA Playoffs. They tend to come back and win, and after that incredible Game 6 comeback against the Thunder and their celestial series-opening wins in Oakland, this team is still probably as confident as ever heading into Game 4. They were only down eight at the half despite getting knocked around and floundering around to even get decent shots. But they won’t survive if Steph Curry and Klay Thompson don’t start hitting some shots, and after another stinker of a game, Steph’s ability to enforce his will on the Cavs is up in the air. The Warriors still might be able to win without him, and also there’s a mountain of evidence that he’ll recover and get back to torching the Cavs soon enough. Tonight, he was consistently short on his jumpers and didn’t look like himself. The Warriors don’t need him to ball out in order to win, but without Steph hitting ridiculous shots and going on solo game-ending runs, the Warriors are fairly normal. And LeBron James doesn’t have nearly as much trouble with normal teams.