Coming into this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers had never won a game in the NBA Finals. Now they have won two, the latest coming on Tuesday night in the form of a 96-91 Game 3 win over the Golden State Warriors in front of a raucous home crowd.
LeBron James led the way with 40 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and two blocks, while Matthew Dellavedova once again harassed Stephen Curry into a tough night. Dellavedova finished with 20 points, including three on a driving layup with 2:27 left in the game to halt a run by the Warriors, who had nearly erased a 20-point third quarter deficit.
As he did in Game 3, Dellavedova also made life difficult for Curry. The league MVP finished with 27 points, but 17 of those came in the fourth quarter when the lead was already too large. He led a valiant comeback effort, but it all came too late. Curry also turned the ball over six times.
Game 3 picked up right where Game 2 left off. The Cavaliers slowed everything down and dragged the Warriors into the mud. They also pushed them around in the paint, which is where they scored their first 12 points of the game. LeBron was able to get wherever he wanted on the floor, and Tristan Thompson, who finished with 14 points and five rebounds, continued to be a menace on the offensive glass.
Then Steve Kerr replaced Barnes with Andre Iguodala, which allowed Golden State to stay in the game. Iguodala had the speed to stay in front of James, who missed 11 of his first 17 shots from the field, and the strength to make life difficult for him. The Warriors were lucky that he did. Golden State shot just 34 percent from the field in the first half and entered the locker room trailing 44-37, though it felt like the deficit was even more.
The 37 first-half points matched a season-low for the Warriors, who once again had trouble springing Curry open. After connecting on his first shot, a three-pointer less than two minutes into the game, Curry went on to miss his next five attempts from the field. He had three points at halftime; Cavaliers forward James Jones, by comparison, had seven. Golden State also missed 13 of their 16 three-pointers in the first half. At one point, a desperate Steve Kerr even dusted off David Lee for the first time all series.
Things didn't go any better for the Warriors in the third quarter. Dellavedova scored eight quick points and continued to outplay Curry, Golden State continued to look lost and passive on offense and the Cavaliers continued to take advantage. LeBron and Timofey Mozgov swatted shots at the rim. J.R. Smith hit a three-pointer. Dellavedova dove all over the floor and somehow got flip shots to fall. The crowd roared. The result was a 15-2 run midway through the quarter that gave the Cavaliers a 68-48 lead.
Then Curry began to show some life. He hit a three-pointer in transition and a pull-up jump shot at the foul line. After that he drew an offensive foul in the backcourt and then set up Leandro Barbosa for an open three-pointer with a crosscourt pass to the right corner. The Warriors entered the fourth trailing 72-55, but they were starting to look like the team that had won 67 games this season.
That continued at the start of the fourth, as Golden State scored the quarter's first eight points and cut the lead to nine. Kerr decided to go back to Lee, who was able to thrive in the pick-and-roll with the Cavaliers trapping Curry. Essentially, he did the things Draymond Green has not this series. He found open teammates from the top of the key and crashed the boards and scored seven fourth-quarter points. A scoop layup from Curry with 5:40 left in the game got the deficit down to three.
But then Dellavedova hit a circus shot, while getting fouled, to push the lead back up to four, and he also forced a couple of Curry turnovers. A couple minutes later, Cavaliers fans began chanting his name. Curry hit some miracle heaves to keep the Warriors alive, one of which got the lead down to three with 18.8 seconds left, but it all came too late. James hit two more free throws to get the lead back up two five with 16.8 seconds left. Cleveland is now two wins away from its first ever NBA title.
3 things we learned
1. LeBron James doesn't plan on slowing down
LBJ went for 40, again, in Game 3 ... and that lowered his Finals scoring average down to 41. LeBron has now scored 123 points through this series' first three games, which is an NBA Finals record. He's also averaging 12 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game this series and continues to put the Cavaliers on his back (he sat just two minutes in Game 3 and took 34 shots, making 16 of them).
This is turning out to be a legacy-defining series for LeBron. Forget the whole bringing a title to Cleveland thing. LeBron is now two wins away from winning an NBA championship with J.R. Smith as his second-best offensive player. That's more impressive.
2. Matthew Dellavedova made some kind of deal with Satan
That's the only way to describe what's going on here. If you were to take an alien and show it the first three games of this series and then tell it that one of the point guards in this series was the league MVP, it'd assume you were talking about Dellavedova, not Curry.
Curry started finding his rhythm a bit in the fourth quarter, but Dellavedova clearly made him uncomfortable earlier in the game. He definitely got under his skin. There were also the countless times he dove into the stands and onto the floor, as well as the numerous big shots he hit.
What Dellavedova offered Satan, we're not sure. But it must have been something really valuable.
3. Stephen Curry figured out the Cavaliers defense
Curry got off to another horrendous start, but almost single-handily brought the Warriors back from a 20-point third quarter deficit. He finished the game with 27 points and six assists, but 17 of his points came in the fourth quarter, when for the first time all series he looked like the league MVP.
Golden State might have dropped Game 3, but Curry rediscovering his stroke is a great sign and something that should scare the Cavaliers.
SB Nation presents: The 3-pointer has gone from novelty to necessary