In terms of firepower, the Cleveland Cavaliers are outgunned. They boast three All-Stars — the Golden State Warriors have four. They have a former MVP in LeBron James, but the Warriors have two players who have combined to win the last three. They have three-point shooters galore, but they kept missing even open ones during the first three games — all losses — of the NBA Finals.
And yet despite all that, three All-Stars isn’t anything to scoff at. In Game 4, the Cavaliers finally got that trio locked in at the same time, and it was a fearsome thing.
LeBron James became the all-time leader in NBA Finals triple-doubles with his ninth career one, notching 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists on 11-of-22 shooting. Kyrie Irving exploded for his second 40-point game (with 40 points exactly, plus seven rebounds and four assists), becoming just the eighth player to record multiple games with that many points. Kevin Love didn’t make any NBA Finals history, unfortunately, unless he’s the first Banana Republic model to win a finals game. Still, his 23 points and 6-of-8 shooting on threes was all Cleveland needed from him.
When the Warriors lit up Cleveland for three straight wins, we asked a lot of questions about this Big Three — namely, whether they would still be together by the start of next season. Those questions are still firmly in place because at times, they still don’t seem to fit together as well as they should. But when they do, it can be a glorious display of basketball.
We saw it in the first quarter when the Cavaliers erupted to set an NBA record with 49 points. That’s right, 49 damn points in just 12 minutes. That’s a statistic that’s still mind-blowing for anything other than an NBA All-Star game, but we just saw it in the finals. Love led the way, scoring 14 points, while James only needed to drop eight while dishing out six assists.
And then there’s Irving, who can knock in dagger shots like this one:
4️⃣0️⃣ #DefendTheLand pic.twitter.com/CCX5TDa3HW— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) June 10, 2017
It was clear after Game 3 that James couldn’t do this alone — not when the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 12 points in the two minutes that he was off the court. The Cavaliers were still far and away at their best with James in Game 4 (plus-32), but Irving and Love showing up was a must. With 94 points combined out of the trio, it’s safe to say that happened.
At their best, this is what the Cleveland Big Three can be. Irving is an outright scorer who never holds back, and Love fills in the gaps as a sharpshooter who can muscle on the inside, too. James does a little bit of everything in between, picking up the slack scoring wise when he needs to or sitting back and delivering pinpoint passes within the flow of the offense if that’s what the situation calls for in the moment.
Questions about whether Love is the best option for the team over a more versatile two-way wing will persist, especially since the Cavaliers are still enormously unlikely to win the series. Debates about how much Irving really adds besides scoring can still be waged in the Twitter mentions of your favorite basketball nerd. But Game 4 showed the beauty of those three playing together as their best selves, and it was a gorgeous thing to watch.
The Cavaliers will need it again if they have any hope of winning another game.