A game after we thought we knew something, as it turns out we remembered we knew something else entirely as well.
The facts: LeBron James led the charge in a near crisis situation for his Cavs team as, were they to falter at home, would be facing a 0-3 deficit to the Celtics. James rose to the challenge, as he is wont to do, but it was entirely different from game 2, which was certainly good for his own team. Instead of trying to shoot his team into a winning position while the Celts sat back and waited until he ran out of bullets, James essentially forced his teammates to step up, and they did in a big way en route to a 30 point blowout win. The Cavs now face a much more palatable (if dangerous) challenge in evening out the series, which they can do tonight.
The Reaction: I often wonder what James is really like with his teammates behind closed doors and the pressure mounts. He has certainly faced enough scenarios throughout the course of his career, I doubt anything really surprises him anymore. But even so, to have just gotten blown out despite playing a really good game has to raise that pressure up a little bit more. I think the two biggest contributors who stepped up were Kyle Korver and George Hill, two guys who are often the beneficiaries of James’ point-forward passing, and seeing those shots drop early on put the Celtics in a catch-up position they were not ready for.
On the Celtics’ side of things, what surprised me most is how they responded to the Cavs’ defensive pressure. Cleveland is not a good defensive team. However, what they did was quicken the pace with aggressive trapping and allowed James to play free safety to protect the rim. The Celtics never gave themselves the patience to deal with this accelerated pace, and as a result, rushed a lot of shots they would have otherwise passed up.
Brad Stevens even admitted as much in between the 1st and 2nd quarters. He said, despite his team trailing by 15 after one, he wasn’t alarmed by the defensive effort, but it was the offense that was the problem. And truth be told, the remaining three quarters were never a breakthrough for Boston, but all within two possessions in differential. And that’s the area where we’ve seen Boston overcome some huge deficits, particularly against the 76ers. Despite falling behind early against that Philly team, Boston got their act together in the 3rd quarter to turn the game around.
I expect Stevens will preach patience, because the Cavs will look to do the same thing again tonight. Will there be a different outcome?
Did James just change the trajectory of this series?
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2. In culinary showdown, Chef Curry cooks Harden
The facts: A game after getting rocked by Houston on the road, leading many to assume that this series is quite even across the board, the Warriors responded with a 41 point beat down over Houston on their home court, the kind usually reserved for a random February game against the Grizzles. After a spotty opening half between the two teams and Houston looking to take back home court (no doubt with one of those 40 point quarter outbursts), instead it was the Warriors who went OG, opened the 3rd on a 10 point run.
While Kevin Durant was largely the offensive centerpoint for the game, it was Stephen Curry who finally looked something resembling his old self by scoring 35 on 13-23 shooting, including 5-12 from three. The game was all but over by the end of the 3rd, but to really put a button on it, the Warriors reserves then outscored the Rockets by 20 in the 4th, leading to a 41 point win.
The Reaction: Everyone will say that this game’s outcome was largely determined by Curry finally looking like himself, the Warriors will say he’s been healthy for a while, he just needed some shots to fall, but I think it’s most telling that up until game 3, Curry didn’t seem to trust his own shot to the degree we’re used to. Remember, this guy is the best 3-point shooter the league has ever seen, yet he repeatedly defaulted to driving the ball (with some success).
But that’s not what fuels the Warriors’ attack. What fuels it, more than anything else, is the amount of gravity Curry creates when, as soon as he crosses half court, defenders start worrying if he’s going to pull up from deep. It creates the strangest of things — where a defense suddenly becomes more preoccupied, even fearful — that they’re about to give up a shot that by its very definition is a shot they should be willing to give up. Curry in short makes them inherently believe that a bad shot is suddenly a good shot. And that’s why, as Kerr has said, Kevin Durant is their best player, but Curry is their most important. And as bad as game 3 was, game 4 might be worse because if the Rockets defense begins to overplay Curry taking those shots, everything else will open up for Golden State, including open shots from Klay Thompson and drives to the rim by Durant and even Draymond Green.
Will Harden make an impact in game 4?
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