Matthew Dellavedova could be the next mayor or Cleveland, right now he’d win in a landslide. LeBron James is having the kind of series that you can only compare with Magic, Michael and the other greats. Stephen Curry has largely struggled, and the front line of the Warriors has gone MIA.
In today’s edition of the PBT Podcast, we’ve got PBT’s Kurt Helin and Brett Pollakoff, plus NBCSports’ Dominic Ridgard breaking down what the Cavaliers are doing right — defense, mostly — and what the Warriors are doing wrong (almost everything it seems). We also start to look ahead to Game 4, and if things are about to change.
The last time the city of Cleveland celebrated a professional sports title of any kind, it was because of Jim Brown. The legendary running back was at the heart of the 1964 Browns that won a title beating the Baltimore Colts.
Brown was sitting courtside for Game 3 in Cleveland, and LeBron James acknowledged him with a little bow pregame.
Through three quarters Tuesday night, Stephen Curry just could not get shots to fall. Credit the Cavaliers defense, or say his shot was just off, the fact of the matter is he was 4-of-11 through 36 minutes of Game 3. But it was more than just Curry, the Cavaliers are being physical with Warriors players off the ball, and that is leading to some stagnation. The Cavaliers are getting back and taking away easy transition looks. They have taken the Warriors out of their comfort zone.
Add it all together the second straight game the Warriors were held to fewer than 60 points through three quarters — something that didn’t happen all season.
Then in the fourth quarter Curry woke up — he hit 5-of-8 from three, knocking down shots. Contested or not, no matter the degree of difficulty, the shots were falling.
“I think I found something when it comes to how I’m going to be able to attack their pick-and-rolls and even certain iso situations,” Curry said post game. “I’ll keep that in the memory bank going into Game 4, and hopefully it has a trickle over effect into the first quarter of the next game.”
But the Warriors said they found something to build on, something they can carry over to Game 4 Thursday night.
“We became the aggressors,” Curry said. “Just like the last three minutes of Game 2. For us to win this series, we have to play that way the whole game. We have the depth, we have the talent to do it, whether we’re at home or on the road.”
“You have to make every possession like it’s your last possession,” Andre Iguodala said. “I feel like that’s the energy Cleveland’s playing with.”
Players and coach often speak of energy more than tactics, but that fourth quarter feature something new — David Lee setting the picks for Curry. Lee is an offensive threat in a way the struggling Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut have not been this series. According to John Schuhmann of NBA.com (using SportsVU cameras), when Lee screened Curry the team scored 20 points on 13 possessions (1.54 per possession), compared to 25 points on 40 possessions when anyone else was the screener for Curry (0.63 points per possession).
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said you can count on seeing more of Lee in Game 4, but what he liked was that his team showed some passion.
“I mean, you want to show some fight,” Kerr said. “And I thought in the third quarter we were hanging our heads a little bit, and it was good to see us bring the fight to the game. And that’s how we have to play the whole way through. It’s not just making shots. Obviously, that helps, but it’s fighting and it’s competing, and we’ve got to do that for 48 minutes.”
Iguodala used a better word than fight — execution. That is what the Warriors have lacked in their offense. The Cavaliers have made it difficult at every step, but in the face of that the Warriors stopped executing.
“It’s up to us to do the things that we haven’t been able to do on both ends of the floor. Executing small things. Small things are really biting us in the ass a little bit,” Iguodala said. “So loose balls they’ve gotten to every one of them. Offensive boards, second chance points, they seem to have a knack for those things, and we’ve got to come up with them…
“When we don’t get enough passes, we seem to rush even more. So we’ve just got to take our time, settle in, make them work a little bit more defensively. I think we found something there with David Lee that’s working for us. So he’s going to get some more minutes, I would like to think, going forward, and then other guys will see how effective he is and they’ll do the same. So we’ll have a steady diet of something we found that can work throughout the rest of the series.”
The Warriors had better hope so — and they need to use it and be aggressive from the opening tip of Game 4. The Warriors will either head home with the series tied and feeling confident or down 3-1 in a hole that, like the one they were in Tuesday night, they probably can’t climb out of.
LeBron sees people questioning his efficiency, raises them with 2-1 series lead
Through three games, LeBron James has 123 points — the most of anyone in NBA history through three Finals games. One more than Rick Barry in 1975, a couple more than the logo himself Jerry West back in 1969. LeBron’s 41 points a game average so far ties Michael Jordan’s highest-scoring Finals average. LeBron has scored these points while dragging a group of role players who, on paper, shouldn’t still be playing in June, to a 2-1 series in the NBA Finals.
And yet, because he’s LeBron James, there is criticism of his play.
LeBron has not been efficient getting all those points, shooting just 40.2 percent. The Cavaliers offense hasn’t been efficient this series with him scoring like this. LeBron acknowledged that criticism, then reminded everyone to check the scoreboard.
“I’m not okay with it, but I’m so outside the box right now,” LeBron said of his shooting percentage after Game 3. “I went seven straight seasons with improving my efficiency. Seven straight into this year, the previous seven seasons, seven straight seasons with improving my efficiency as far as shooting. But this is a different challenge. This is a totally different challenge. I’ve never played where two All-Stars were out. So it’s a different challenge for myself, and it’s outside the box, but it’s not too far. It’s not far for me to go grab….
“I’m high volume shooting, but it’s not like I’m going out there and I’m high volume shooting and I’m not doing anything else. I’m doing everything for our team to help our team win, and that’s all that matters.”
Everything, such as defending key guys every possession, or grabbing better than 12 rebounds and dishing out better than eight assists per game.
What we know about shooting efficiency is that it decreases the more offense a player has to take on, the higher the usage rate. LeBron’s usage rate through three Finals games is a crazy-high 42.4 — he has had to take on a ridiculously high percentage of the Cavaliers offensive load.
More than just the points (and rebounds, and assists), he’s controlling the tempo of the entire series — the average Finals game this series has had 93.7 possessions, that’s seven fewer possessions than the Warriors averaged during the regular season.
“He’s playing and we’re playing the way we want to play,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said.
If you ask the other guys on the court, LeBron is also lifting up his teammates.
“I mean, LeBron [James] is playing well.” Draymond Green said. “First it was really just him playing well, but now everybody else has kind of fallen in line.”
“He’s playing great basketball for us, and we’re just getting on his shoulders and just riding him through the game,” Tristan Thompson added.
LeBron understands efficiency, but he’s had to sacrifice that in the name of getting enough points on the board to get wins. The idea that the Cavaliers’ offense couldn’t be much worse without him is fanciful — the Warriors had the best defense in the NBA all season and have played well these Finals. It is the Cavaliers defense that is the biggest key to their success.
But if LeBron isn’t putting up these points, the Cavaliers would be losing low-scoring games, not winning them.
Cavaliers’ defend, hustle, hang on for Game 3 win, take control of NBA Finals
Stephen Curry found his shot in the fourth quarter — he had 17 points and was 5-of-8 in the final frame, and the Warriors as a team hung 36 up. Curry made it interesting down to the final minute. In the second half, he had 24 points on 14 shots. He finally started to look like the MVP.
But the Cavaliers defense had already put the Warriors in a hole so deep Curry could not shoot them out.
Through three quarters the feisty Cavaliers held the Warriors to 35 percent shooting and 5-of-20 from three, led by 20 at one point in the third quarter, and had seemed to get in the Warriors’ heads.
Combine that with 40 points from LeBron James and 20 from Matthew Dellavedova and you have enough for Cleveland to hang on for a 96-91 win. The Cavaliers now lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 in their building on Thursday.
“I don’t think our guys gave in, and I don’t think that they let up. Golden State made some plays, made some shots, which they are capable of doing,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said of the Warriors’ fourth quarter. “I thought we let down a little bit on the offensive end and that put us in a back up kind of mode. We weren’t as aggressive as we were.”
While the fourth quarter made it interesting, the Cavaliers won the game in the third quarter. That’s when they cranked up the defense, and the wheels seemed to come off the Warriors. Golden State had just 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting. Meanwhile on the other end the Warriors’ defense, which had been solid all series, started to show some crack. Cleveland got 13 points from LeBron in the third, and their lead stretched out to 20 points at one point. At the end of the quarter, it was 72-55 Cleveland, and they had taken control of the game. And it felt like maybe the series.
“You want to show some fight and I thought in the third quarter we were hanging our head a little bit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was good to see us bring some fight to the game. That’s how we have to play the whole way through.”
However, Golden State opened the fourth on an 8-0 run, and things got interesting as the Warriors started to just hit shots throughout the quarter. The lead fell all the way to one, 81-80, after a Curry three.
After the Dellavedova shot, Curry turned the ball over on a behind-the-back pass — he expected Green to pop after a pick, but Green has stopped thinking about threes he’s been so cold.
Then LeBron hit a three, and it felt like the dagger. Even some more big Curry shots were just not going to be enough.
The fourth quarter was the polar opposite of the first half, which had been exactly the kind of half Cavaliers wanted — defensive, grinding, holding the Warriors to 3-of-16 from three and their starters to 6-of-27 shooting. It was 44-37 Cavaliers at the half. Curry was 1-of-6.
Cavaliers get off to a 12-5 lead to start, but the key was all 12 points came in the paint. They attacked while the Warriors were still running a lot of one-pass, easy to defend offense. LeBron was clearly emotional to start the game — a Finals game back at home — and he carried the offensive load, but was 6-of-17 shooting for 13 points in the first half.
It was the role players for the Cavs again early: LeBron and Dellavedova shot 5-of-17 to start the game, Every other Cavalier was 6-of-6. Tristan Thompson was fantastic again in the first quarter with six points and seven rebounds.
The Warriors got a little roll player help as well — Andre Iguodala had 15 points and was Golden State’s best player with 15, David Lee came in and found a chemistry with Curry on the pick-and-roll, and Lee had 11 points.
“I think what helped (Curry in the fourth quarter) was David Lee as the roll man,” Kerr said. “Steph was able to find David and that softened them up a little bit, David was terrific.”
In the end, Tristan Thompson had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and J.R. Smith added 10 points. They pitched in a little.
But it is LeBron carrying this Cavaliers team — not efficiently, but with their defense he hasn’t had to be. He just has to get up points.
The Cavaliers did that again Tuesday night and now are in control of the series. However, the fourth quarter showed they still have a lot of work to do — the Warriors will not go quietly.