Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Warriors - Game 3

Lachlan Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Managing Editor

Key: Home Sweet Home

It’s not like the Cavaliers haven’t been here before.

On Wednesday night, the Wine & Gold come home to The Q with their backs against the wall, someplace they’ve found themselves in three of the four Playoff series they’ve entered this season. They’ve passed each test along the way, but the competition doesn’t get any stiffer than the reigning World Champs.

On Sunday night in Oakland, the Cavaliers fell to 2-0 on the Dubs’ homecourt for the second-straight season, keeping Cleveland at arm’s length for the wire-to-wire win.

Offensively, Golden State was hitting on all cylinders – with four Warriors’ starters combining to go 26-of-37 from the floor and the fifth – Stephen Curry – canning a Finals record with nine three-pointers. Role players, JaVale McGee and Shaun Livingston, were a combined 11-of-11 from the field.

The Cavaliers got double-doubles from LeBron James and Kevin Love, but struggled with communication on the defensive end and didn’t get much help from their second unit.

Historically speaking, the Wine & Gold have come back to win a series from an 0-2 hole four times in the past – including the recent Eastern Conference Finals against Boston and the 2016 NBA Finals against these Warriors.

And the Wine & Gold are on a major postseason roll at The Q – having won eight straight at home, outscoring foes by a dozen points per while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 39 percent from long-range.

The Cavaliers desperately need some home cookin’ at The Q tonight. They’ve defied the odds against the Warriors before, but having to come back from an 0-3 hole is an historic task they’re not trying to accomplish.

Key: Homecoming King

The 2018 postseason has belonged to LeBron James. He might not win his fifth MVP award when the hardware is handed out after the season, but as his eighth-straight NBA Finals unfold, there’s little doubt who the game’s greatest player really is.

The 14-time All-Star didn’t have another 50-point outburst in him as Golden State upped the pressure defensively, but he still managed to finish just one rebound shy of his 10th career Finals triple-double – leading Cleveland with 29 points on 10-for-20 shooting and pacing both teams with 13 assists to go with nine boards and a pair of steals.

LeBron continues to do the heavy lifting – averaging 40.0 points on 56 percent shooting from the floor, including 5-of-11 from long-range as well as 85 percent from the stripe, adding 10.5 assists and 8.5 boards per. Along the way, Numeral 23 eclipsed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for second-most points in Finals history.

Simply put, LeBron’s game right now is beyond reproach – he simply needs help. He’s the only player – of six who’ve done it – to post a 50-point Finals performance and lose. He needs his teammates to step up around him.

James’ Golden State opposite, Kevin Durant, has had no such on Sunday night.

After struggling on 8-for-22 shooting in the series opener, the reigning Finals MVP was in rhythm all night on Sunday – finishing with 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting, adding another nine assists, seven boards and a pair of blocks, giving him five through two games.

Key: Backcourt Battle

After a pretty pedestrian performance – and a free throw he’d like to have back – in his NBA Finals debut, George Hill bounced back with a solid 15-point showing in Game 2, looking much more aggressive on the offensive end.

In just under 34 minutes of work, the nine-year vet went 5-of-12 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from deep, adding a pair of steals and a blocked shot.

A good sign for the Wine & Gold is Hill’s performance on his home floor during the 2018 Playoffs – notching double-figures in all six games at The Q after returning to the lineup for Game 7 against Indiana – with a 20-point effort against Boston in Game 6 of the ECF most recently.

Across from Hill, JR Smith didn’t find redemption on Sunday night – following up a 3-for-10 night in the series opener with a quiet five-point effort on 2-for-9 shooting in Game 2. Swish has had some big nights against Golden State in the past, and the Cavaliers need their veteran sharpshooter to go back to the future if they hope to even the series here in Cleveland.

Golden State’s backcourt has been humming along – even with Klay Thompson hobbled with a high-ankle sprain.

Thompson hasn’t done anything spectacular in the series – but he’s averaging a solid 22.0 points on 55 percent shooting while doing his usual yeoman’s work on the defensive end.

Stephen Curry has done plenty of spectacular things in the series – namely his 33-point explosion on Sunday night – canning an NBA-record nine triples in the victory, going 5-for-5 in the fourth quarter, with back-to-back backbreakers that help put Cleveland in a two-game bind.

Key: Center of Attention

After missing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals while still under the league’s Concussion Protocol, Kevin Love has had a rock-solid Finals through the first two games – doubling-up in each contest.

Love’s struggles against Golden State look to be in the past: he averaged 24.0 points and 12.5 boards against the Warriors in two regular season meetings and is averaging 21.5 and 11.5 through the first two games of the Finals.

The problem for Love and the Cavs is that they’ve been on the losing end of all four matchups.

Love had his best success in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss, when he and Tristan Thompson each went 4-of-4 from the field. Thompson bounced back from a rough offensive performance in Game 1 with a double-digit outing on Sunday night.

So far, the Cavaliers' big men have actually fared pretty well in the series. Larry Nance Jr. was quiet on Sunday night after a solid Game 1, but overall Cleveland has done well down low – beating Golden State on the boards, 95-79, on the offensive glass, 35-11, and on second-chance scoring, 40-19, through two contests.

The only area in which Draymond Green has been quiet in the series has been on the offensive end, averaging 9.0 points on just 13 shot attempts. Of course, he’s impacted both affairs in various other ways.

Steve Kerr went with JaVale McGee in the starting the lineup in Game 2, and the move paid off brilliantly – with the ninth-year man going 6-of-6 from the floor for 12 points in the win.

Key: Help Wanted

Considering Golden State’s four All-Stars in the starting lineup, the Cavaliers have to find an edge somewhere in the series.

Their bench had been excellent during the regular season, but they haven’t gotten consistent production in the Playoffs. That’ll need to change quickly if Cleveland hopes to pull off the Finals upset.

Jeff Green is shooting 31 percent, going 1-of-8 from long-range through two games; Jordan Clarkson has found things even more difficult – going 3-for-13 from the floor against Golden State.

Kyle Korver – the Cavaliers’ third scoring option during much of the postseason – has only attempted four combined shots in the series and has struggled from the floor since Game 5 against Boston. The Cavs are 8-1 in the 2018 Playoffs when Korver notches double-figures.

Larry Nance Jr. followed up his nine-point, 11-rebound night in Game 1 with a quiet, six-rebound night on Sunday.

Role players traditionally play better at home – and the Wine & Gold will need that tradition to carry on in Game 3 at The Q.

Golden State hasn’t gotten huge contributions from their collective bench – although David West’s three-pointer at the end of the third quarter on Sunday was pretty painful – but they have gotten perfection from the former Cavalier and current Cav-Killer, Shaun Livingston, who followed his 4-for-4 night in Game 1 with a 5-for-5 effort in Game 2 – notching 10 points apiece and giving Golden State enough to come to Cleveland with a two-game edge.

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