Game 3: Full analysis, reactions
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CLEVELAND – Just when you thought the Cleveland Cavaliers had forced their way back into this series, just when it seemed as though playing at home at Quicken Loans Arena behind a raucous crowd had cured what ailed them, just when it seemed as though this series was about to be one game away from being even … it was all over.
The Cavs came from behind in Game 3 of The 2017 NBA Finals to take a late six-point lead, but a clutch 11-0 flurry from the Golden State Warriors to close the game gave them a 118-113 win, and left Golden State one win away from sweeping their opponent and posting the NBA’s first-ever 16-0 postseason. Let’s take a look at what went right and wrong in Game 3 …
Right: ‘The Slim Reaper’
Kevin Durant has been Golden State’s best all-around player in this series, and entered the fourth quarter with 17 points. But Durant exploded for 14 in the fourth quarter, including a pull-up 3-pointer over LeBron James with 45 seconds left and the Warriors down 2. Durant’s shot hit nothing but net, and the Warriors took a lead they would not relinquish. Durant finished with 31 points and eight rebounds.
“We know if we get off the board and push, we’re a dangerous team,” Durant said. “And I saw [James] backing up, and I just wanted to take that shot. Also it was a good time, it was 45 seconds to go, we were down two, if I miss, we could have gotten another stop. But glad I was able to knock that down. I just tried to stay disciplined in my shot, hold my follow through, and it went in.”
“To knock that shot down like that, to take it I think is the biggest part,” said Draymond Green. “Not many people are taking that shot. He knew he was taking that shot the whole way. That was huge. He wanted that moment.”
Wrong: The battle of the boards
After outrebounding Golden State in Game 1, the Warriors bounced back to post a dozen more boards in Game 2. And in Game 3, the Cavs were unable to reverse the trend, as Golden State outrebounded the Cavs 44-37. Part of that was Golden State simply didn’t miss many shots; they shot nearly 50 percent from the field (48.5 percent to be exact).
But part of that was also Golden State’s concerted effort to neutralize Cleveland big man Tristan Thompson. After averaging 9.2 rebounds per game in the regular season, Thompson has a total of just 11 boards through Cleveland’s first three games. In Game 3, Thompson finished with no points and 3 rebounds in 23 minutes of play. In contrast, 6-foot-3 Stephen Curry had 13 rebounds, and is averaging nearly 10 for the series.
Right: Finding the right tempo
After trying their best to run with Golden State through Games 1 and 2, the Cavaliers again tried to push the tempo at the beginning of Game 3, and they went into the break down 67-61. But in the second half the Cavs seemed to revert to the slowed-down, ball-control offense they utilized to great success in The 2016 Finals, and the Cavs won the third quarter 33-22. Eventually, though, they seemed to run out of juice.
“We just felt like the way they play,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr, “Kyrie and LeBron had it going the whole game, but that’s pretty taxing to go one-on-one the whole game. Both those guys were amazing, 38 and 39.
“But that takes a lot out of you. We just kept telling the guys, they’re going to get tired. Stay in front of them. Force them into outside shots, if you can. Fatigue will play a role. And I think when you get guys playing 45, 44 minutes, basically attacking one-on-one the whole game, you hope eventually it’s going to take its toll. I wasn’t sure after awhile, they just were going nuts. But I think that we just stayed.”
Wrong: Finding rest for the Cavs
If Cleveland is going to have a chance at turning this thing around in Game 4, they are going to need to figure out ways not to allow slippage when their best players are on the bench. With 1:49 to play in the first quarter and the Cavs leading 32-29, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue subbed James out of the game in an effort to get him a bit of rest.
“For us to win,” Lue said, “I knew I had to give LeBron at least a two-minute blow in that first quarter because in the second half he might not get a blow. So Kyrie was playing well, the game was on the line, so I decided to stick with those guys, being at home, down 0-2.”
Immediately after James went out, the Warriors ripped off 10 unanswered points to take a 39-32 lead into the second quarter. When Lue tried to buy James 30 seconds of rest at the end of the third quarter, the Warriors added two more points.
When you’re matching up against one of the most high-powered offenses in NBA history, there’s no margin for error. And when LeBron James isn’t in the game, you may well be over-matched, but you can’t let that many points come off the board.
Right: One win away
For a Golden State team that won 73 regular season games last season but fell short in the postseason, they are now just one win away from avenging that loss at the hands of the Cavaliers. And perhaps more significantly, the Warriors have the opportunity to do it in perfect fashion, as they are a Game 4 win from being the first team in NBA history go 16-0 in the playoffs. While they have for the most part passed on talking about the impending record, it is now right there for the taking.
“We talked about it since The Finals last year,” said Curry, “that the last season was a very unique year, for a lot of different reasons, and we learned a lot. I think we have grown and matured just mentally of how to just pace yourself through this long year and take every day as a new experience and something that you can kind of take control of.
“So we try to control the narrative and the conversations and just our talk in the locker room and in practice, especially the last three months of just understanding what our goal is and how we’re going to get there day by day. So it’s being in this position right now, obviously it’s working, and we have to keep that keyhole mentality of, what’s next? And we’re right there. So that’s a great thing, but obviously we’re not done yet. So I think we have done a pretty good job of growing up as a team.”
Wrong: One loss away
After tearing through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 12-1 record, the Cavs seemed poised to provide a terrific three-match against the Warriors in The Finals. Three losses later, the Cavs now find themselves one away from their second defeat in The Finals in the last three postseasons. In 2016, they overcame a 3-1 deficit to win the title. Could they be the first team to climb out of a 3-0 hole and win a title? After finishing Game 3 with 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, James was asked if he was able to take any solace in knowing that this Cavs team has been known to pull off the improbable.
“Well, of course,” said James, “but for me personally I don’t get involved in what people talk about. I’ve been out of that department, I told you guys, for a long time now. So mentally, me personally, I got to go home, start my treatment right now, get my mind focused and get my body focused and get my body ready for Game 4, and we take it one possession at a time.”
Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here or follow him on Twitter.
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