Considering the fact that the Cavs led the Golden State Warriors by a dub at one point during the first half of Wednesday’s Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals, the 53-42 halftime deficit really didn’t reflect how poorly Golden State played and how emphatically Cleveland asserted themselves early in this pivotal game after losing by 33 and being written off by gun jumpers in Game 2.
At the end of the first half, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he was happy with the way his team got defensive stops and kept the game close, but admitted that there was a certain two-time MVP giant named Steph Curry, who has come up very small in this series so far. Kerr said he didn’t know what was wrong with the mad bomber, but insisted that Curry, “needs to get it going.”
That was an understatement as the Warriors Big Three scored 34 combined points. Cleveland took a page out of OKC’s book of success and intensified defensive efforts on Curry in particular. Golden State’s offense was sloppy and never really got going.
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In his second NBA championship run with Miami the Cavs lost to the Spurs in Game 2 by 36 and came back to win the series as James scored 33 points in Game 3 of the 2013 Finals. Similarly, he was the best player on the court in this year’s Game 3, stopping the bleeding, righting the ship and scoring a game-high 32 points as Cleveland blew out chef Curry and The Potcookers 120-90 at Quicken Loans Arena.
All Golden State could do was take the ass whipping and laugh.
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Cleveland has been feast or famine, improving to 8-0 in home playoff games. It is the third time they have won by 30 or more at home in the playoffs.
Kyrie Irving, the recent victim of typical playoff overreaction, irrational blame and social media criticism, had been shooting 14 percent from three-point range entering the game.
He had the stroke going early, erupting for 16 points in the opening quarter and finishing with 30 points and a clean playoff slate. Everyone and their mama knew that Irving would have to show up and show out in Game 3 if Cleveland was going to begin their crawl back into the series. He showed what he was made of at the expense of the defending world champions.
“Kyrie...He’s a special kid and we need him to be special throughout this series,” King James told Doris Burke. “He kept us afloat and got us a lead.”
It doesn’t get any sweeter than that and leadership-wise, you can’t deny that Tyronn Lue’s team came out with a sense of urgency. As he often does when his back is against the wall and his team needs a boost, LeBron James decided to be more self conscious offensively and help his team set the tone.
The absence of Kevin Love wasn’t impactful as veteran Richard Jefferson, playing on his fifth team in five years, was a game replacement. With Tristan Thompson adding 14 points and JR Smith finally waking up in the series, even more slack was picked up. Smith, who scored eight points in the first two games of the series, finished the game with 20 points. When Smith gets on his basketball BS, he's almost unguardable. Ask the MVP.
“The Missing Link” hit five threes in the game and his dagger trey put Cleveland up 67-48 with 6:33 left in the third quarter as part of a 19-6 Cavs run, prompting ESPN announcer Mark Jackson to say, “This is what the Cavs had been waiting for, an explosion of JR Smith.”
A few minutes later, LeBron popped a long three from the top of the key to give the Cavs their largest lead of the night to that point (70-48).
On the flip side, Curry’s ineffectiveness was masked by impressive team efforts in Golden State’s first two series wins. It was glaring in Game 3, as he was a measly 1-6 from the field and 0-4 from the three-point line with just two points when LeBron struck his pose from the top circle.
By the time Curry started heating up, the clock was not on Golden State’s side. He scored 13 points in the third-quarter but Golden State still trailed by 20 (89-69) entering the fourth.
Golden State basically waved the white flag as the third quarter dissipated and Cleveland piled it on with an array of acrobatic LeBron dunks, a crisp offensive flow, active D and a hot shooting hand. Hopefully Cleveland saves some of that spunk and perimeter funk for Game 4 because they will need an even better effort to defeat a Dub Nation squad team that is surely embarrassed and you can bet the arena that they will come back slinging in Game 4.