It’s almost as if no one is interested in the Finals this year. After appearing on my friend Jumal’s No Smoke podcast1 following Game 1, it felt as if the Warriors popped the momentum balloon after getting the win in overtime. Game 2 only capitalized on that feeling, and I was only able to view the massacre in increments, as responsibilities prevented me from comfortably watching the entire game.
For this one, no one seemed particularly passionate about seeing this game unfold. My brother said “I know the Warriors are going to win”; a coworker of mine is tired of seeing the same teams for the fourth year in a row. Whatever the reasons may be, they’re piling up. Kevin Durant’s final three with 50 seconds left sealed this game, but will this moment earn a spot in NBA lore like the game-clinching shot he hit in Game 3 of last year’s Finals; right in LeBron’s face with 45 seconds on the clock? It’s unlikely, since last year at least had the distinction of being Durant’s first ring, this year is just another for the Golden State machine to claim superiority.
Speaking of Durant, he dropped 43 points last night, a playoff career-high, sparking a debate for his case to repeat as Finals MVP. After dropping a quiet 26 in both games, content with balling in the background, Durant exploded with a ferocious scoring barrage in this one. Durant’s 13 rebounds were also a crucial component to their win, as at one point, he had all seven of the team’s rebounds. It’s not often teams who are out-rebounded by 10 win the game, but the difference in this one was the Warriors scoring efficiency.
The Warriors want to get out and run the break if they’re not passing the ball like a well-oiled machine in the half-court, and Cleveland fed those ambitions. Too many times I saw Cleveland race down the floor and put up a quick shot just seconds into the shot clock, oftentimes missing, only for Golden State to return the favor or do them one better immediately after. You must play defense to beat this team, and for a moment, it seemed like Cleveland was going to clamp down and slow this game down enough to get the win once the third quarter was coming to an end, as they were only down two, and managed to keep it competitive up until the final three minutes. It makes me question what else Cleveland can do, but it wouldn’t be true if I said they are out of options.
Games 1 and 3 were close, and both games were similar in that both had the most talented players on their respective teams doing things that only the most talented players in the world can do. LeBron went for 51 in a loss in Game 1 and Durant went for 43 in a win in Game 3. Klay, Draymond, JaVale and Jordan Bell all had 10 points while Curry chipped in with a measly 11; as much as Durant is derided and ridiculed, he showed up when his team needed him, and he was responsible for them getting that win last night. After averaging 31 points and shooting 50 percent from three the first two games, Curry was uncharacteristically inefficient last night, going 3-for-16, and 1-for-10 from three. Sometimes those shots don’t fall, but when you have three other All-Stars covering your back, and when one of them is also a former MVP and a top 3 talent in the NBA, you’re afforded the luxury of having a rough game in the Finals. Might have to reconsider that Finals MVP however.
For Cleveland to win a game, something I predicted they would not be able to accomplish before this series began, they must simply be more efficient. After a phenomenal two games from LeBron, he slightly disappointed last night. His defense has been slipping for years now, and he hardly plays that side of the floor most possessions anymore, but a 115 defensive rating for the game is just inexcusable when your offensive rating is only 117. His defensive rating was higher in the first two games, meaning he gave up more points while he was on the court, but his offensive rating was at a staggering 138 for Game 1, and 119 for Game 2. Game 2 saw Steph go nuts from three, so his rating isn’t as high as it could’ve been since the game was over prematurely, but last night? 13-for-28, 1-for-6 from three, four turnovers, poor defense, and most of his missed layups came in the second half, when your best players are needed to close the game. I don’t know what else to say other than LeBron must play better than how he did last night, and I realize how ridiculous that sounds since everyone gives him a break for being on the less-talented team, but when your teammates that everyone ridicules actually perform well, what’s the excuse?
Kevin Love shot just under 50 percent, and perhaps if he wasn’t forced to shoot seven threes, he could’ve done more. However, when playing in The LeBron System, it’s important to help LeBron stretch the floor so he can drive to the rack and either score or kick it out, forcing Love to add an element to his game that’s always been his weak suit; Chris Bosh he is not. Still, he chipped in with an efficient 20 points, and even led the Cavs in rebounding with 13, rivaling Durant. Tristan Thompson played seven more minutes than usual for this series, contributing with 10 boards, something he was unable to do last year. J.R. recovered from that awful blunder in Game 1 to drop 13 last night, playing good defense and just generally being more aware of the situations developing on the floor. Rodney Hood did exceptional for his first real game of the Finals, repeatedly driving to the hole and consistently finding his little flip shot over Klay and various smaller defenders, going for 15 on nearly 64% shooting.
Seven assists separated the teams, once again proving Golden State’s ball movement, spacing, and shooting is the key to their success, as well as once again proving how much better they are at executing that plan than anybody else. Nance Jr. hardly played last night, and although he is offensively limited and a poor free throw shooter, he helps with grabbing boards over this weaker Golden State squad. You’re getting gouged on defense as it is and down 3-0 in the Finals, why not throw a wing-big hybrid out there like Thompson and Nance with LeBron and see what happens? I’ve argued for Thompson getting more minutes this whole series since he seems to be out of the slump he was in last year, coincidentally the first year of his large payday.
Of course, if Nance and Thompson are both out there, LeBron must be out there as well, and likely for this lineup to work, Kevin Love cannot be on the floor. This is partly why Cleveland has almost no chance to win this Finals, not only is there rotations they haven’t tried, not only is a majority of this roster young guys with no playoff experience, not only is their coach not very good, but most of these guys aren’t natural defenders, or even just decent on defense. LeBron, Nance and Thompson on the floor together could potentially grab boards over the smaller, thinner Golden State roster, but their feet may be too slow to switch on defense.
All night Golden State was getting to the rim effortlessly, and even watching live, the amount of space the roll-man for Golden State had when cutting to the rim was simply inexcusable. LeBron, Love, and Thompson lineups were repeatedly dissected, and I doubt Tyron Lue will adjust for Game 4, as their lackadaisical defense this game led to a pretty good offensive showing, something I’m sure will satisfy Lue’s mediocre coaching acumen. Lineups must be staggered better, with fresh bodies coming in to pack the paint, rebound, and switch. Somehow, I still don’t think it will be enough come Friday night.