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.
That’s when Dellavadova made a circus floater in the lane for an and-one. He had struggled early in the night with his shot, he and Draymond Green got in a little battle of hard hits (Delly’s was a little low), but Dellavedova continued to defend hard all night and hit shots when needed. Then down the stretch he was the first guy on the ground to get loose balls.
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.