The Cleveland Cavaliers saved their season on Wednesday night when they defeated the Golden State Warriors 110-90 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals behind LeBron James’ game-high 32 points. Still down 2-1 in the series, the Cavaliers proved they can hang with the 73-win Warriors.
Kyrie Irving came to life as soon as the game tipped off. The Cavaliers point guard coasted to 16 points in the first quarter and finished the game with 30 points and a team-leading eight assists. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, by contrast, each finished the first quarter with a whopping zero points.
I’ll always remember Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals as the Richard Jefferson Game. The 35-year-old forward finished the game with only nine points on 4-7 from the field, but his mere presence on the floor changed up the Warriors defense just enough for LeBron and Cleveland’s scorers to play their game.
“Well, they had good spacing with Kevin (Love), and they’ll have good spacing with Richard (Jefferson),” Kerr said before the game. “The difference is just the speed, the ability to get to the rim. Richard is more of a three, obviously, than a four. So they’re really going to spread us out and it should give them more driving lanes and more room for LeBron (James) to operate.”
Jefferson’s presence was felt even more so on the defensive end as he was able to defend pick-and-rolls better than Kevin Love. Starting Jefferson in Game 3 proves to be Tyronn Lue’s first smart coaching decision, but it remains to be seen what Lue will decide to do when Kevin Love comes back.
Curry finished the first half with only two points and ended the blowout win on the bench with only 19 points. Klay Thompson finished with 10. The Warriors never led in the game.
LeBron found his jumper in the second half and it was all over from there. The time-machine must’ve been in full-force last night because LeBron played like the dominating mega-star he was in the Miami Heat’s playoff runs of 2012 and 2013.
JR Smith also hit some clutch shots for the Cavaliers and Tristian Thompson chipped in on the boards with 13 total rebounds.
The Cavaliers showed up and defended their home turf, but the Warriors have regularly responded under these circumstances (see: 2016 Western Conference Finals). Its often said that role players play better at home and Cleveland showed that last night, but I don’t know if that offensive production or defensive prowess is sustainable. Curry and Thompson are too good to remain as cold as they were on Wednesday night.