J.R. Smith is known as being one of the game’s more quirky players, following the beat of his own drum even when others may question what exactly it is he’s doing.
Smith arrived to Game 4 of the NBA Finals in the least conventional way possible, riding a what appears to be a Hovertrax (basically, a Segway with no handles) into the arena, which garnered plenty of interested eyes.
Golden State vs. Cleveland NBA Finals Game 4 preview: Will Warriors finally play with desperation?
CLEVELAND — Led by LeBron James, the Cavaliers have played all three games of this NBA Finals as if it were a Game 7. They have given it everything — to the point Matthew Dellavedova had to be taken to the hospital after Game 3 due to exhaustion.
Golden State, on the other hand… they are still playing like this is the Western Conference first round. They are not getting to the loose balls, they are not close to outworking the Cavs.
If that doesn’t change Thursday night, Golden State will be down 3-1 to the Cavaliers with the questions of when, not if, they fall.
Here are five things to watch as we head into what is a must-win for the Warriors.
1) Will we see the Stephen Curry from the fourth quarter of Game 3 again? Since the opening tip of Game 1, the Cleveland Cavaliers have played with the energy of a desperate team. Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors largely have not. They have tried to finesse a game being played down in the muck — their pin-downs screens to free up shooters, their dribble hand-offs, have not worked, and they have just looked confused. The Cavaliers have ground any flow, any rhythm out of Warriors.
But in the fourth quarter of Game 3 we finally saw Curry the MVP. Golden State ran him off multiple off-ball picks to create space, they let him run the pick-and-roll with David Lee, and all of it got Curry some looks he felt comfortable enough to knock down. Curry was 5-of-8 from three and had 17 fourth quarter points, and while some of those came with a high degree of difficulty, he was hitting them like he did in the regular season. Golden State believes it has something to build on. If it can replicate some of that, if Curry can get going again, the Warriors will be dangerous.
2) Will LeBron James continue to control the pace? This series has averaged 93.7 possessions per game — seven fewer than the Warriors averaged during the regular season. It is part of the grind that has killed the rhythm of the Warriors’ offense. LeBron James is being patient on offense, working deep into the shot clock and is slowing everything down. Combine that with Tristan Thompson’s offensive rebounding that forces the Warriors to gang rebound rather than leak out, plus just good transition defense with Cavs players getting back, and the Cavaliers have taken away the easy transition buckets on which the Warriors thrive. Golden State will be looking to pick up the pace, but if LeBron and company can continue to control the tempo, it’s advantage Cleveland.
3) Just how tired is Matthew Dellavedova? LeBron? Cleveland’s cult hero and little ball of energy Matthew Dellavedova had to be taken to the hospital and given IVs of fluid after Game 3 due to fatigue. That just adds to the legend of Delly — he gave everything he could, diving on the floor for loose balls until the very end. But that kind of fatigue catches up with a guy. Can he keep chasing Curry off picks for 30 plus minutes and stay in Curry’s jersey as he has? Or is Curry going to find a little space?
Along those same lines, LeBron has admitted his legs have been tired at points. Can he keep playing virtually the entire game, shouldering the load of the entire Cavaliers offense, as he has brilliantly through three games?
4) Does David Lee give Golden State some scoring up front? On offense, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes have been nonexistent — they are 9-of-35 (25.7 percent) over the last two games, and that includes 1-of-10 on threes. Andrew Bogut has floated through games but only impacted them in spots on offense. All through the season when teams loaded up on Curry and Klay Thompson, the front line of the Warriors made teams pay. Cleveland has not be charged a dime. Well, at least until David Lee got minutes late in the game Tuesday, and his threat helped open things up for Curry. Lee will get run again, but he is a defensive liability, and his conditioning is not going to let him play 30+ minutes a night. The Warriors still need Green or Barnes to show up on the offensive end.
5) Who steps up for Cleveland? Every game it’s someone, who will it be this time around? Dellavedova again? Tristan Thompson? Timofey Mozgov? Is it time for the J.R. Smith game? LeBron needs one other guy to step up, and he’s gotten it every game. Who is it this time?
NBA: J.R. Smith should have been called for a foul on Andre Iguodala’s late jumper
One: J.R. Smith should have been called for fouling Andre Iguodala on this 3-pointer 2-pointer:
Sending Iguodala for three two free throws while trailing by five with nine seconds remaining would have still left the Warriors in a tenuous situation. But they would have at least had more — i.e., some — hope.
However, Golden State wouldn’t have been even that close if the other incorrect call.
The NBA said David Lee set an illegal screen by grabbing Iman Shumpert’s leg before this Stephen Curry 3-pointer:
The Warriors came out ahead on missed calls in the Final two minutes, and they still lost. There isn’t much room for griping. Whatever exists, limit it to the first 46 minutes.
After Game 3 win, Cavs’ title chances are suddenly legitimate
CLEVELAND — This one never felt close, even when it was. What does feel close now is this series.
Even after their wild Game 2 win at Oracle Arena, it still felt like the Cavaliers were simply staying afloat against a better, and deeper, Warriors team. Without Kyrie Irving, LeBron James would simply have to do too much by himself for Cleveland to have a legitimate shot against Golden State.
Which is why The Cavs’ Game 3 win was so astonishing. A look at the box score makes the 96-91 score look like it was competitive, and Golden State did make it a game at the end. But it never felt like that, not before the Cavs blew it open in the third quarter, nor when the Warriors staged a comeback to cut a 17-point lead to one in the fourth quarter.
The Cavs have done in this series what the Warriors did throughout the regular season. They’ve been one step ahead of every adjustment the Warriors have made. They’ve controlled the pace and the flow, almost without exception. They’ve forced the Warriors to take tougher shots than usual, and they haven’t been falling.
“It’s so fun playing here,” said J.R. Smith. “It’s crazy. You get so much momentum playing here. I was telling Mike [Miller], we were sitting next to each other, I think the score was 5 to 10. I thought we were up 20 or something.”
That’s what it felt like all night. Every Warriors run had the Cavs ready with a counterpunch, mostly in the form of James, who once again did just enough to overcome the Warriors. Once again, he scored 40 points on a not-all-that-efficient 34 shots. It’s a role he’s resisted playing at other points in his career, and he isn’t thrilled about doing it now. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
“I’m not OK with it,” James said. “But I’m so outside the box right now. I went seven straight season with improving my efficiency. But this is a 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 just trying to do whatever it takes to help. 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.”
On the contrary, he’s doing everything, and it has this Cavs team, improbably, two wins away from their first championship in franchise history. For the first time in the series, that seems like a real possibility.
“We’re playing against a great team, I think, who is very underrated,” said Warriors forward Andre Iguodala. “LeBron makes a lot of those guys good, but they’re a very good team. They’re just taking it to us right now.”
The Cavs didn’t just steal home-court advantage from the Warriors in a hectic final minute on Sunday. They’re now in control. They only have to split the next four games to take home the title. A fourth-quarter surge by the Warriors aside, all signs so far point to the Cavs doing what many thought was impossible.
“The pressure is like a 5.13,” Kerr said, laughing, when he was asked what the pressure is on his team, on a scale of 1-10. “We’re in the NBA Finals. There’s pressure for everybody. I was pleased with the way we responded when we got down, and I’m very confident we’ll play better in Game 4.”
Thursday won’t be do-or-die for the Warriors, but it won’t be far off.
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.