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Five things we learned from the Cavs' Game 3 win

POSTED: Jun 10, 2015 11:35 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


"Go Big or Go Home"- Best of Phantom NBA Finals Game 3

Check out a special slo-mo look at Game 3 of the NBA Finals set to the American Authors new single, "Go Big or Go Home."

— Five things we learned from the Cleveland Cavaliers' 96-91 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the 2015 Finals Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena, in addition to the fact that feisty Australian Matthew Dellavedova cramped up afterwards and needed an IV:

1. All MVPs are not created equal

Golden State coach Steve Kerr and anyone else affiliated with the Warriors can say what they want about Stephen Curry. About how his approach didn't change in the fourth quarter, when he scored 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting (5-of-8 from the arc), compared to his 10 points, 4-of-11 (2-of-5) under-production in the first three quarters. About how he was just as locked-in and aggressive at the start and in the middle as he was at the end.

But this is the time of year when Kia MVP winners validate their trophies. Win them from November through April, demonstrate in May and, hopefully, June why the voters were right.

GameTime: Curry's Struggles

The GameTime crew discusses why Mathew Dellavedova's defense on Stephen Curry is so successful.

Curry's team is down 2-1 in The Finals. It has to win three of the next four against a Cleveland squad brimming with confidence ... or risk seeing its marvelous, franchise-best season dismissed as some breezy little West Coast trifle. Curry's wonderful 2014-15 narrative is on the verge of being rewritten, with the Cavaliers elbowing him aside as the best Cinderella story this year.

Curry is averaging 24 points in the series, he's shooting 39.6 percent overall (25 of 63) and 23.1 on 3-pointers (6 of 26) -- and it's not enough. Not nearly. Curry needs to go off with a barrage of long-distance shots. He needs to take over a whole game. Or two or three. He needs to have the ball in his hands and the Cavaliers' defense in disarray, frantic to find him before he launches yet another from deep.

I've got to be aggressive. Whether I'm making shots or not, I've got to stay -- I'll use the word 'vibrant.' Just kind of having fun out there. Because the team definitely feeds off my energy the joy for the game.

– Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry

That's the Curry who lit up the NBA all fall and winter, the Curry Golden State needs more than ever here in late spring. Lest it face a long regretful summer.

"Nothing felt different about the fourth quarter than it did early in the game or even Game 2," Curry said after Tuesday's loss. Except that it took little-used David Lee, dusted off by Kerr due to Draymond Green's foul trouble and the desperation of a 17-point deficit heading into the fourth, to spring Curry loose.

That's fine -- Lee was aggressive in rolling to the basket and Curry said he might have "found something when it comes to how I'm going to be able to attack their pick-and-rolls and even certain 'iso' situations."

Still, that's tactical, something to which Cleveland might or might not adjust. Don't forget, either, that in the game's final two minutes, Curry still turned over the ball three times. There was an inbounds pass where LeBron James read his eyes, coughing up the ball when James slid into Curry as if he were second base and an unacceptable behind-the-back blunder passing where Green no longer was.

Warriors on Game 3 Loss

Steve Kerr, David Lee, Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry address the media following a Game 3 loss to the Cavaliers.

While James is elevating his status as the game's greatest player to an even loftier level, dragging an injury-racked Cavs team to victories it probably has no business winning, Curry is allowing this series to be used as a referendum on the trophy he's already got on his mantel. His Warriors are deep and relatively healthy, yet there were stretches where they were hanging their heads.

That is Curry's job to fix.

"I've got to be aggressive," he said. "Whether I'm making shots or not, I've got to stay -- I'll use the word 'vibrant.' Just kind of having fun out there. Because the team definitely feeds off my energy the joy for the game."

There's a reason why the Finals MVP trophy is named after a fellow named Russell and the other one isn't. The difference is in the rings.

2. The Cavaliers are deeper than expected

James' 123 points so far are the most through the first three games of a Finals, surpassing Hall of Famer Rick Barry's 122. Dellavedova scored 20 points and duct-taped himself to Curry, when he wasn't knocking over people, chairs and anything else that got in his way.

But Cleveland has significant help from folks not named Irving or Love. Iman Shumpert only took two shots and made one, but his defense was aggressive and his resilience mattered even more. When Shumpert left early after slamming his left shoulder into a pick by Green, it looked as if Cleveland might run out of bodies. But he came back in a compression shirt under his jersey and mixed it up from there.

Mike Miller made another appearance and, to end the first quarter, threw himself to the floor for a loose ball. Then two amazing things happened: Miller got up, and he didn't leave any parts lying behind. Tristan Thompson has a clever rebounding pattern going as well: 15, 14 and 13 in the first three games so far. That's downward trending but the Cavs happily would take three more in double digits.

It's worth noting coach David Blatt's contributions, too. He doesn't get much respect, but at the moment he's up 2-1 over Kerr and the formidable Warriors. And he got here by climbing up a playoff ladder with rungs named Brad Stevens, Tom Thibodeau and Mike Budenholzer.

3. Big things sometimes don't show up in box score

Those little things that players often do that, as the saying goes, don't show up in the box score? Well, there was a rather huge moment, with the game in the balance and less than 20 seconds left, when the referees came up big with something that didn't show up in the box score.

Late-Game Call

Klay Thompson gets called for the turnover after he touches the ball from Matthew Dellavedova with his foot on the line.

After Curry drained a 3-pointer from 29 feet with 18.9 seconds left, Cleveland went into a 20-second timeout, then had Miller inbound to Dellavedova. Golden State's ball pressure had the plucky Cavs guard in trouble, headed toward the sideline, and he passed the ball recklessly to avoid losing possession by falling out. But he lost possession anyway -- the ball squirted through Harrison Barnes' hands, right to Green.

But wait! One of the refs blew his whistle, freezing the ball and sparking confusion. Refs Danny Crawford and Marc Davis huddled near the sideline, where Green and James were lobbying, so they moved onto the court and were joined by ref Derrick Stafford. They came to a conclusion: Inadvertent whistle. One of them had blown the play dead incorrectly. But the Warriors had the ball and 18.8 seconds left in a one-possession game.

But wait again! One of the referees realized they hadn't actually determined whether Dellavedova or anyone else might have gone out of bounds before the bogus whistle. So they went to the monitor, talked with the replay center in Secaucus, N.J., and saw an angle that showed Klay Thompson, plain as day in an overhead shot, with one foot on the sideline and his hand on the ball while it was in Dellavedova's grasp.

Totally within the jurisdiction of the officials to review that play, based on the out-of-bounds trigger at that point. So now it was Cleveland's ball. James got fouled with 16.8 seconds left and hit two free throws to push the lead to five. Andre Iguodala missed a 3-pointer at 5.9 seconds and that was that.

But in the box score, all that adjudication and activity between Curry's basket and James' free throws read like a simple change of possession. No turnover, nothing. From 18.9 seconds to 16.8, possibly the game's turning point is invisible in the play-by-play secition of the box score.

4. James Jones added his name to an illustrious list

There had been 15 four-point plays in Finals history prior to Game 3 and now, thanks to Jones' 3-point shot and free throw with 3:13 left in the first quarter, there are 16. Not to say that the play is becoming commonplace, but there were just two four-point plays in the 1980s and two more in the 1990s. Then there were two in the 2000 Finals, two more in 2006 and eight in the past eight years.

Want the full list of shooters who got that bonus point on The Finals stage? Here it is: Andrew Toney, Scott Wedman, Toni Kukoc, Hersey Hawkins, Glen Rice, Reggie Miller, Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Howard, Manu Ginobili, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Ray Allen (twice) Chris Bosh and Jones.

5. We don't know nothin'

NBA Finals Game 3 Report's Sekou Smith, Lang Whitaker and John Schuhmann recap Game 3 of the NBA Finals from Cleveland.

In this case, "we" means all the experts and all the casual observers and everyone else who figured that, as soon as Kyrie Irving was added to the Cavaliers' scrap heap with a fractured kneecap late in Game 1, all we'd be left with would be a coronation of that team from the Bay Area.

"We" couldn't have been more wrong. Buying into the surface appeal of the NBA's trendy Big Three approach, we overlooked the power of James' leadership and his capacity to convince his lower-profile teammates that for a game or two, or a week or two, that they're better than they think.

Three blowouts on the heels of that Warriors Game 1 OT victory? Hardly. The entertainment value already is high, with in no particular order: James' magical levitation of what's left of the Cleveland roster; Dellavedova careening pinball-like to make this game of elegant giants accessible to riff-raff couch potatoes; goofy J.R. Smith, a high-wire act each time he touches the ball; Curry as the superstar with a storm cloud gathering overhead, and plenty more.

And just when it looked as if we'd get an unexpected blowout in the Cavs' favor, Lee and Leandro Barbosa surprisingly sparked a comeback that got Golden State all the way back save one to 81-80. Then Dellavedova banked in a diving -- diving, not driving -- shot from the lane. That's entertainment.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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