Who expected that the Cavaliers would be up on the Warriors, 2-1 through three games? The WTLC team breaks down the game and what to expect heading into tonight's pivotal match-up.
1) What was your initial reaction to game 3?
R.K. Anthony: The Cavs completely controlled the pace of game for 3 quarters and the 17 point lead they held going into the fourth quarter was the result. After Cleveland out-hustled and out worked them, the Warriors resembled an overmatched prize-fighter taking a beat down. However, the 36 points Golden State scored in the 4th, almost pulling off the "Rocky 2" comeback victory, may turn into the biggest story of the game.
Dellavedova has clearly gotten into Stephen Curry's head but the MVP may have a found solution. Rather than taking on the Aussie one on one or using a single screen to get an open look, Curry ran Delly through a gauntlet of screens and knocked down his last two 3-point attempts
If they were paying attention, the Cav's coaching staff are more concerned with Steph Curry's resurgence in the 4th quarter than they are celebrating this win. When David Lee, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson cut the 17 point Cav's lead to single digits in just over 2 minutes to start the 4th, there was a palpable shift in momentum. This game ultimately hinged on Curry's miss on a wide open 3 pointer after an errant Cav inbound pass. Whether the 4th quarter results were a product of fatigue or a mental letdown by the Cavs we do not know, but it took some timely heroics from Dellavedova to prevent a miraculous comeback win for the Warriors.
Justin Danziger: The Cavs simply played better. They hustled, they dove on the ground. This series is a grit and grind one and right now the Cavaliers want it more. Stephen Curry let Dellavedova control him, Draymond Green hung his head once he made a mistake. It was one of the uglier games I've seen from the Golden State Warriors. It seemed like they were pulling it all together in the fourth, but Delly put the icing on the cake with his acrobatic and-1. The series is just 2-1 but it feels like the Cavs are sweeping.
Marina Mangiaracina: Of course, Game 3 happened to be the game where Klay Thompson and Steph Curry couldn't get it going for three straight quarters. Curry recovered in the fourth, utilizing some great passing action from David Lee. Using David Lee in the second and fourth quarters was a brilliant move by Kerr and co, because Lee brought the inside presence that the Warriors were sorely lacking. Speights has seen success in the past, but he simply does not have David Lee's ability on the block. David Lee was also a better option than Bogut, whom has become more timid as of late.
Still, playing David Lee opened up an array of defensive problems for the Warriors. Lee's defensive struggles, along with those of Curry in the pick and roll, meant that Golden State could never mount a proper comeback. I'll also credit David Blatt's slow pace. I find Blatt's use of slow pace here hilarious, because he's famous in Europe for running super-fast pace with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
In any case, I have to give credit to Golden State's veterans. Guys like Barbosa and Iguodala are doing all they can to hold this team together. Leandro and Andre are also taking on more offensive responsibility, looking like younger versions of themselves. Meanwhile, younger guys like Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green are really falling flat. Barnes was playing with proper confidence, but routinely missed wide open outside shots. Green was equally bad from the field. Draymond made things worse by refusing to take an outside shot late in the game. This allowed the Cavs to pack the paint and continually force the Warriors outside.
J.A. Sherman: We're quite literally an inch away (Iman Shumpert's desperation heave at the end of game 1) from Cleveland being up on the Warriors, 3-0. That's insane. We could be realistically talking about a close-out sweep tonight involving a 67 win team on the losing end.
By contrast, if Stephen Curry hadn't messed up his lay-up at the end of game 2 (with a helping hand from Kyrie Irving), the Warriors would be up 2-1 despite playing mostly C- level basketball. In the words of Michael Jordan to himself, "I coulda dunked...you shoulda dunked."
What game 3 reminds me of is that, at this stage of the competition, it can transcend the simple rules of the basketball court. To be sure, last season we witnessed the perfection of hoops physics as the Spurs decimated the Heat, but most of the time, these games hinge on a willingness to push a little bit harder than the other guy on a primal level. The Warriors walk around wondering how this could be happening. LeBron James walks out of the tunnel knowing exactly how it is happening. And the reason he knows is that he was in Steph Curry's shoes in 2011. In Dirk Nowitzki's shoes in 2006. In Kevin Durant's in 2012. Isiah Thomas has it right - "The secret to basketball is that it's not about basketball."
What is it about? I am reminded of an illustration by Pat Riley when he coached the Heat to a championship in 2006:
Riley once put a large bucket of ice water in front of him and told his team: "If you want to win a championship, you have to want it…"
Stopping in mid-sentence, Riley plunged his head into the water and kept it there for several seconds, which turned into a minute, which turned into even more than a minute. His players sat dumbfounded, watching, until Riley finally pulled his head out of the water and finished his sentence:
"…like it's your last breath."
2) Who was the MVP/LVP of the game?
R.K. Anthony: I'm going to cheat a bit on both of these. My co-MVP's are LeBron and Delly. The hustle play when LeBron sprinted the floor to knock the ball away from Curry and then Dellavedova diving for the loose ball and fighting for it was a perfect example of the grit and determination the Cavs have demonstrated, not just in this Finals, but throughout the entire playoffs.
My co-LVP's are Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green for the obvious reason of shooting a combined 2 of 18 in game 3. As overrated and outdated as the stat may be, both ended the game at a -14 in the +/- column. If Steve Kerr had not replaced Green with David Lee in the 4th quarter, this Cavs very likely win this one going away.
Justin: It's pretty clear that LeBron James deserves the MVP. It has come to a point that even if the Warriors win, he still deserves the award. He barely spends any time on the bench and he is averaging over 40 points a game. People tend to forget that he is doing this all against the best defense of the regular season. Dellavedova is a not-so-close second for MVP, and the reason I say not-so-close is not to take away what the young player has done. It is to emphasize how ridiculous LBJ is playing.
Marina Mangiaracina: The MVP is probably Dellavedova, who succeeded in keeping Stephen Curry out of the game for the entire first half. If you combine that with Game 2, that's about 60 full minutes of Curry shutdown. I know that LeBron is also there. But Dellavedova was more efficient than LeBron in the second half. More importantly, Dellavedova got hot when Curry did, negating Steph's impact on the game. Obviously Lebron was the best player on the floor, and did what was expected of him. But Dellavedova did the unexpected, and proved to be the X-Factor that tipped the game in Cleveland's favor.
The MLP, in my mind, is Festus Ezeli. A couple of times in the third quarter, Ezeli simply couldn't score on a man much smaller than him. Worst of all, Ezeli was really close to the basket. It really irks me to see a big man miss near a smaller man, especially when my team's future is at stake. I also think Ezeli should be more of an offensive factor when Mozgov is out of the game. If Ezeli does well enough, we might even see Perk!
Sherman: LeBron still owns MVP, and not simply because of his Westbrook-level numbers. But rather, the leadership qualities he is exhibiting in these playoffs is his next level of maturation. It is, dare I say, Tim Duncan level stuff. And LeBron should know what that looks like.
LVP - has to be Draymond Green. The biggest difference to me between these Warriors and those of years past is that they finally found some bite to back their swagger. Watching Green lead the emotional effort kept taking Golden State over the top, even when they weren't playing at their best. This series would seem tailor-made for him, but he's not responding to the Cavs' aggression. He doesn't even need to be great, but he cannot be so timid.
3) Why is Dellavedova consistently outplaying his SG counterpart Klay Thompson?
R.K. Anthony: Heart and a total lack of hesitation to do whatever it takes to win. After the game I was flipping through channels and caught a quote from Alec Baldwin's character, Colonel Doolittle, in the movie "Pearl Harbor" that summed it up pretty well:
"Victory belongs to those who believe in it the most and believe in it the longest. We're gonna believe"
Justin: The series so far has been a mental game, and Dellavedova is stronger in that aspect. There is no doubt in my mind that Klay's scoring abilities are superior to Delly's defense, but it is evident that Delly wants it more...to the point where he must be hospitalized after the game.
Marina Mangiaracina: Klay is only as good as the players who give him passes and set him screens. Simply put, the Warriors haven't been moving the ball on offense over the past couple of games. Thus, Klay hasn't been able to get to his usual spots and score. Dellavedova's forte is working around the pick and roll. Curry is too small to defend Dellavedova around the pick and roll, while Klay tends to sag off whomever he's defending. If Dellavedova's shot is there, he'll destroy both Stephen and Klay every time.
Sherman: Dellavedova had a surprisingly good game 3 offensively, but I think it was an anomaly (to say nothing of his 4th quarter and-1 heave), but games 1 & 2 are more within expectations. Hey, it happens. The reason why Klay hasn't found the same kind of contribution or consistency (and let's not knock his defense; they're defending well with few breakdowns) is twofold. 1) The Cavs have minimized the Warriors' transition game by slowing the pace. 2) Cleveland is not collapsing on defense. Cavs have shown that they're not afraid of the Draymond Green pick and rolls, so there's often no help coming, which leaves Thompson covered. Without space or pace, Klay has to rely more on his dribble-drive game, which while improving is not something he is apparently comfortable doing often.
4) What happened to Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green?
R.K. Anthony: Green is still adjusting to the intensity and when he tries to get going by attacking the rim Mosgov is stonewalling him. Being the Finals, he isn't getting the calls he may enjoy in the regular season and thus not giving him the opportunity to find his stroke at the line.
I don't feel that Barnes has committed to match the physicality he is facing in these games. When other players were diving for loose balls Barnes was a spectator. That has to change.
Justin: Draymond and Barnes disappeared in Game 3 and it is hard to say why. It looked like they were getting worn out by the Cavs up-tempo play style. Neither of them could get a shot past LeBron and his stifling defense. Kerr saw that Green couldn't get anything done so he desperately put in David Lee, who had an excellent game and was key in Golden State's late comeback. If GSW wants to win, these two guys are CRUCIAL, especially Draymond.
Marina Mangiaracina: Barnes has been an enigma for his whole career. There are games where his offense is on the level of Steph Curry or Klay Thompson, and I'm not even kidding. There was a time where I considered all three to be equals. But there are other games where Harrison Barnes seems to have the offensive ability of Kendrick Perkins. I really have no idea what it is. In the past, Barnes has really had problems with getting lost within the offense once the going gets tough. What's different about Game 3? Barnes was involved in the offense, confidently taking shots despite his poor numbers.
Draymond Green is more troubling. It's normal for Green to come into games with a lot of fire. Now, he seems to be coming into games with a lot of frustration. Green forced shots early, and stopped taking shots late. Green is a very key cog in the Warriors offense, and is typically known for making good decisions. So to see him fall apart like this is worrying. Worst of all, Green seems to be yelling constantly on the court, and routinely argues with officials. Hopefully Draymond can take a chill pill before Game 5.
Sherman: These are two guys that should be the biggest difference between the collective talent levels between the Warriors and Cavs. Well, they are, just not in the way I expected. They don't have to play great; they just can't be awful. And to not be awful, they need to humbly acknowledge that the Cavs' players are working harder than they are.
5) Do you think the referees are making too many mistakes that is affecting the outcome of games?
R.K. Anthony: Officiating is a part of the game that will always bring individual personality and human error into the equation and it is every player's responsibility to adjust their game accordingly. Traditionally, referees have always tended to swallow their whistles in the playoffs more than they do in the regular season trying to make the game more about the players than themselves. Unfortunately, I think the result is just the opposite sometimes and I believe they should officiate game 7 of the NBA Finals exactly the way they do a game in November.
Justin: No. I do think that they are missing some calls but they aren't affecting the outcome of the games. I'm usually not one to say this, but LeBron should get some more calls his way. It seems like the refs understand the physicality that the Finals consists of.
Marina Mangiaracina: I used to sit behind two guys at Thunder games who would do nothing but keep track of the referees. These guys would know every official's name, and constantly argued for foul calls. At the conclusion of every game, one of these guys would usually lecture me about how the refs were always stacked against the Thunder.
After watching these guys constantly patrol the refs for the better part of three years, I can say with confidence that the officials are excellent at what they do. The NBA rule book is open to interpretation, and all you can really ask of a ref is that they call the game consistently. I'm pretty sure the Cavs earned every foul they got late in the game. Plus, the Warriors turned the ball over three times in the last 2:04, and only stopped the Cavs once in the last 2:56. A loss is a loss. The Warriors need to get to the rim and earn those calls.
(Also, don't get me wrong, sitting behind those guys was pretty awesome. Nothing like seeing a man with a personal grudge against Tony Brothers and Monty McCutchen.)
Sherman: Tough calls at ends of games are a way of NBA life. Goodness, don't we know it. The play that defined the ending of game 3 was the botched/nearly double-botched call that could have given the Warriors the ball down only 4 with under 30 seconds to play. It was strangely reminiscent of an infamous Thunder moment against the Clippers last year, where the refs botched the initial play and then compounded it with something worse. Fortunately the refs corrected this one.
I think we just have to acknowledge that in the ends of games, the margin for success/error is razor thin, and just roll with the punches when they come.
6) Who wins Game 4 and why?
R.K. Anthony: Dellavedova was hospitalized for cramping after Tuesday's game and LeBron showed the first signs of cramping after the alley oop in the 4th. Neither is a good sign for a team that has relied on total effort thus far. The way the Warriors finished game 3 should give them confidence going into the game on Thursday and I'm not convinced that the Cavs can keep going 8 vs 10 and keep up the defensive intensity necessary to hold the Warriors in check. Someone other than Delly or LeBron will have to step up for the Cavs Thursday, or they will lose home court advantage.
Justin: Warriors in Game 4. Steph Curry found his shot late in the game so the slump will be short-lived. He's back. I also think LeBron's neverending minutes will catch up to him next game. He's barely touched the bench. He may be a physical specimen, but he is far from immortal. Warriors win by 7.
Marina Mangiaracina: The Golden State Warriors. Curry came alive in that fourth quarter, proving that he can still provide on the offensive end. Once Curry is able to become a more effective distributor, I think that will open up Klay's game. LeBron looks tired, and every single player on the Cavs seemed to have a good game during Game 3. It's just hard for me to see the Cavs coming with a higher level of intensity than they have right now. On the other hand, I've seen the Warriors play so, so much better.
Sherman: I think the Warriors take it because they finally seemed to realize what they had been missing at the end of game 3. They rolled through the regular season trusting that statistics revert to the mean over a large sample size. Well, we're not in a large sample size anymore, so if things are going bad, you have to correct them, and sometimes aggressively.
The Warriors made an aggressive change by turning to David Lee despite completely marginalizing him for 80 games this season. Lee responded well, giving the offense the jolt it needed because Cleveland has to respect Lee's middle game, unlike Green's. The downside is that the Warriors lose much defensively, but that 4th quarter showed that that may be an acceptable cost because the speed of the game increased. If the pace goes up, even if the other team is scoring more easily, the trend favors Golden State and gets them into a mode where they are more comfortable.
It was also in game 4 vs the Grizzlies that Curry finally found his basketball muse. Could the same hold true tonight?