The NBA Finals move on to game 4, as the Cleveland Cavaliers hope to tie the series and pick up even more momentum, erasing the 2-1 lead the Golden State Warriors have.
LeBron James can see his alley oop dunk from 21 different angles while Stephen Curry has to see himself getting blocked by James on a dead play. More than anything, both teams are looking at what worked and what didn’t in a series that’s been about different levels of blowouts.
This is still a do-or-die situation for the Cavaliers. Heading back to Oakland with a 3-1 deficit, knowing they have to play there twice in order to win the championship, is almost like a Mission Impossible situation. In a lot of ways, nothing has changed for the Cavaliers: One more loss, and their confidence in winning this series is gone. The aggressiveness and desperation they had pushing them in game 3? That has to be there all the time.
And in order to keep that state of mind intact, Kevin Love will be coming off the bench. Love isn’t soft. Concussions are dangerous, and the Cavs were right to sit him. But despite being a max-level player and one of the big three on this team, his faults present a huge problem for Cleveland against the Warriors. Draymond Green doesn’t handle the combination of athleticism and length very well. Playing Love a lot of minutes in the main lineup is a gift to Golden State.
James spoke after game 3 about Richard Jefferson. Jefferson wasn’t signed to be a huge piece of the puzzle, but the Finals always present interesting opportunities and twists in the plots. Jefferson in the lineup gives Cleveland a certain balance, allowing James to play at the ‘4’ a lot more, giving Green a lot of trouble, while the fantastic defense on Curry and Thompson continues. Green had just six points in game 3, shooting 2-for-8 from the field.
James has only 13 free throw attempts in the first three games. The referees continue to give the Warriors the benefit of the doubt when it comes to fouling in the paint. There hasn’t been anything harsh that has led to controversies, but stricter calling on these things, or at least giving the Cavs a fair shake when it comes to contact in the paint, could be a key factor in this series. James keep taking shots from close (3 feet or under), but he’s not getting calls he deserves to be getting.
But maybe it’s all about making shots? Could be. Kyrie Irving didn’t do a lot of different things in game 3. He simply got hot early, and things went from there. Yes, James kept yelling at players to attack through Curry. When he’s not free to help from blindsides and in traps, Curry’s weaknesses on defense are exposed. It’ll be interesting to see if Kerr has answer to the development, or simply sticks to what’s worked well throughout this season.
More than anything, he needs Curry and Thompson to make shots. Thompson is shooting 36.8% from the field against Cleveland in another bad Finals appearance. Curry is 43.6% from the field, and looks like he’s not that comfortable with taking over the game, preferring to see Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Green make the difference. That’s not too bad of an option on some nights, but this can’t be the Warriors go to option. In the end, they should be a better team with Curry. When it’s the opposite, it means the Cavaliers are getting the job done.