Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Warriors - Game 4

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Win or Go Home

The Cavaliers have been in some precarious spots during the 2018 postseason, but it doesn’t get much hairier than being down 3-0 to the defending World Champs.

Cleveland came out of the gate strong on Wednesday night, taking 12-point leads in both the first and second quarters, but Golden State showed why they’re able to overcome almost any obstacle. In that Game 3 win at The Q, the Warriors withstood poor shooting games by their All-Star backcourt – leaning on Kevin Durant, who poured in 43 points to push the Wine & Gold to the edge.

In 2016, the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit. No team has ever came back from a 3-0 disadvantage to win a Playoff series, and adding Durant to the Warriors makes this historic hole even greater.

The Cavaliers did some good things on Wednesday night – beating the Warriors on the boards, the offensive glass and in second-chance scoring. Rodney Hood had an outstanding night in his return to the rotation and LeBron James set another Playoff scoring record.

Still, it wasn’t enough as the Warriors rode Durant’s big night to the precipice of their third title in four years.

The Cavaliers – who’ve been within striking distance in all three contests and are 8-2 at home in the postseason – will have something to say about that as they try to keep their season alive on Friday night at The Q.

Key: Best of the Best

Even the greatest player in the game had to marvel at Kevin Durant’s performance on Wednesday night – calling his fellow MVP alum an “assassin” after his Game 3 performance.

Durant did in the Cavaliers in similar fashion in Game 3 one season ago and he was even more deadly this time around. On Wednesday night, the former MVP canned three three-pointer from at least 30 feet out, including his 33-footer with 49 seconds to play that gave Golden State a six-point edge and essentially put Game 3 on ice.

On the night, the reigning Finals MVP went 15-of-23 from the floor, including 6-of-9 from beyond the arc and a perfect 7-of-7 from the line, adding 13 boards, seven assists and a steal in the victory. No other Warrior had more than 11 points.

It’s not often that an opponent overshadows a performance by LeBron James, but Durant’s outburst eclipsed the King’s triple-double and team-high 33-point effort.

LeBron has been sensational in the 2018 postseason and throughout the Finals – averaging 37.7 points, 10.7 assists and 9.0 boards through the first three games of the series – and he was incredible again on Wednesday, going 13-for-28 from the floor – tallying his 10th career Finals trifecta in the process, leading both teams with 11 assists to go with 10 board, two steals and a pair of blocked shots.

LeBron is sometimes at his best facing elimination. He was averaging 33.5 points, 10.8 boards and 7.3 assists in 21 career knockout games coming into the Eastern Conference Finals and averaged 40.5, 13.0 and 9.0 in the final two games against Boston.

The Wine & Gold will need a showing like that on Friday if they hope to stay alive this year.

Key: Changing of the Guards

In the pre-KD days, if a team was able to hold the Splash Brothers to 21 combined points in a Playoff game, that would almost guarantee a victory. But in the modern era of hoops – where a 73-win team can add a future Hall of Famer – a team like the Warriors can weather a combined performance like Wednesday night’s.

After setting an NBA Finals mark with nine three-pointers as part of a 33-point effort in Game 2, Steph Curry was ice cold through most of Game 3 – missing his first nine triples before connecting on a huge one to put Golden State up four with 2:38 to play.

On the night, the former two-time MVP notched just 11 points, going 3-for-16 from the floor, including 1-of-10 from beyond the arc.

After averaging 22.0 points through the first two games of the series, Klay Thompson added just 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting in the win.

The Cavaliers got much better production from their backcourt in Game 3, with JR Smith getting off to a strong start – notching 10 of his 13 points before intermission, going 5-of-14 from the floor, including 3-of-10 from beyond the arc, adding a game-high three steals.

George Hill followed up his 15-point night in Game 2 with a quiet showing on Wednesday – finishing with five points on 2-for-6 shooting to go with four assists and a pair of boards.

The Cavaliers don’t need monster games from their starting backcourt, but they shouldn’t expect that Golden State’s All-Star duo will have another rough night on Friday.

Key: Love Machine

Through the first three games of the 2018 Finals, the Cavaliers couldn’t ask for much more from Kevin Love, who returned to the lineup after missing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston – doubling-up in each contest.

Love did most of his damage before intermission on Wednesday night – netting 15 of his 20 points before half, going 6-of-13 from the floor, including 3-of-7 from long-distance and 5-of-5 from the stripe, adding a team-high 13 boards, three assists and a steal.

In the series, Cleveland’s five-time All-Star is averaging 21.0 points and 12.0 boards despite struggling somewhat from the floor.

Love has not struggled from the stripe in the postseason – having now connected on 31-straight free throws dating back to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semis. Against Golden State – regular season and Playoffs – Love is 23-of-24 from the line.

Love has been matched up often against Draymond Green, who’s having a quiet statistical series – averaging 9.3 points on 52 percent shooting – but has been solid on both ends of the floor, averaging 8.3 assists and 2.3 steals through the first three games.

Green only notched a pair of boards on Wednesday night, but it was enough to move him past Wilt Chamberlain as the top rebounder in Warriors Playoff history. He also became just the ninth player in NBA history to post at least four postseasons of at least 100 points, 100 boards and 100 assists.

Key: Rodney to the Rescue

Not every move that Tyronn Lue has made during the postseason has worked out, but re-inserting Rodney Hood into the rotation paid off handsomely, with the fourth-year pro posting easily his best postseason outing as a Cavalier – finishing with 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go with six boards and a pair of blocks in just under 26 minutes of work off the bench.

Hood hadn’t seen significant minutes since the First Round and has only turned in two double-figure scoring performances in the Playoffs. But the Cavaliers asked for help around LeBron James and, on Wednesday night, Hood answered the call.

Unfortunately, Hood was the only reserve to make a real dent in Game 3.

Kyle Korver still can’t get untracked against the Warriors – missing all four shot attempts in 11 minutes of action. In now eight postseason meetings against the Warriors, the 15-year sharpshooter has gone just 8-for-29 from the floor, including 6-of-22 from long-range.

Larry Nance Jr. hasn’t made an impact off the bench since Game 1 and Jeff Green was quiet once again, finishing with three points on 1-for-4 shooting.

For Golden State, Andre Iguodala gave the Warriors a nice boost, finishing with eight points on 3-for-4 shooting.

Rookie Jordan Bell led Golden State with 10 points off the bench, but it was Shaun Livingston who tormented the Cavs again – going 4-for-5 from the floor on Wednesday night. Through the first three games of the series, the former Cavalier is now shooting 93 percent from the floor, connecting on 13 of the 14 shots he’s attempted.

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