In what is quickly becoming a trend, Golden State started off slow, hit the halfway point even slower, then furiously got right back into the game...only to lose in the final minute.
For the second consecutive night, the Warriors lost a nail-biter to the Cleveland Cavaliers after being dominated through three quarters. Unlike game two's overtime thriller, this was an even more lopsided affair, as the raucous Cleveland crowd celebrated their first Finals appearance since 2007. Again, an ugly "Cavs-style" game saw both teams shooting poorly from the field, but this time, the Warriors clearly got the worst of it. At halftime, they were shooting just 34% from the field, and a ghastly 19% from behind the arc.
Stephen Curry was a big part of that (again), as constant Cavs double-teams hurried the ball out of his hands. On the plays he didn't push the ball forward, he made an ill-advised dribble-dribble into a trap, or hoisted a long three over two defenders (clank). Following his 5-of-23 stinker on Sunday, he opened the first half just 1-of-7 for three points. The Dubs trailed 44-37 at the half, and really, it was a wonder it was even that close.
The third quarter didn't start much better, as the two offensive juggernauts (believe it or not, I'm referring to the Cavs and Dubs) traded missed hay-makers and whiffed jabs for a time. But then Cleveland started connecting, and things turned downright ugly. LeBron, held to a measly 13 points on 6-of-17 shooting in the first half, started to turn it on, with a variety of fade-aways that all found the net. As the Warriors defense reacted to him, he found open shooters like Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova from behind the arc. Coach Steve Kerr stubbornly refused to signal a strategic retreat, and the lead kept on growing until the Warriors found themselves down a full 20 (when Blatt mercifully called one of three perplexing pro-Warriors timeouts on the night).
Golden State entered the fourth quarter down 17 points, in a hostile Quicken Loans arena (they've got to have a better nickname for it, right? The Q isn't a nickname), gasping for air. Suddenly, the team delivered: Klay Thompson opened the quarter with the kind of three-point shot only a Splash Brother would approve of. After trading empty possessions, it was Iguodala nailing one from the left corner. In just two minutes, the lead was 11 points.
As the weary Cavaliers heaved air on one end, the Warriors gained steam on the other. A rejuvenated Stephen Curry nailed a short jumper. David Lee (playing for the hilariously-benched Speights?) contributed points. In short order, Cleveland fans began to sweat as their 20-point lead dwindled to eight, then seven, then four, and eventually one.
If there was any doubt before, it was now clear that the Warriors' depth and minutes rotation is an intentional ploy to wear down LeBron James and the Cavaliers. And it appeared to work to perfection. On the road, the Warriors appeared to have the Cavs right where they wanted them...until they didn't. A wacky Dellavedova and-one, and a told-you-I'm-clutch three from LeBron James gave the Cavaliers just enough to hold on against a blistering rally by Stephen "Clutch-Point-God" Curry. The final score: 96-91.
The Cleveland Cavaliers certainly earned this victory, out-playing the Warriors for at least three-out-of-four quarters. Their defense was aggressive and Curry-centric, denying him the ball or real estate to do anything. Away from the ball, defenders worked hard to stay in position. On the glass, Thompson continually took Draymond's lunch money. And when the ball was loose (the so-called 50-50 ball), it always ended up in Dellavedova's hands.
However, there are good positives to take away from this one. First and foremost, there are three more games in the next seven days, including a travel day. Each day takes just a bit away from the tired Cleveland legs. As strong as LeBron is, there were signs (as there have been all series) that he looked a bit worn down. If you don't believe me, go back to the fourth quarter and watch him pull up for a fade away three while defended by Leandro Barbosa on a switch. That is not smart basketball, and he knows it.
As aggressive as LeBron most of the day, he's only human. LeBron shot 14-of-34 from the field, or 41%, but he needed a number of contested fall-aways and a few long range buckets to do it: he hasn't made these shots all series.
Secondly, Stephen Curry put six quarters of straight-up tragic basketball to rest. He came out firing like only the MVP could, shooting an awesome 9-of-13 from the field in the second half (including 6-of-9 from three, many of them not remotely open). As Warriors fans have seen all year, Curry is too good to have two straight catastrophes from the field when it counts.
Thirdly, the Warriors continue to get contributions from the entire roster. Tonight, Andre Iguodala and David Lee earned their stripes, contributing 26 points and 9 boards on just 16 shots. As long as the Warriors continue to stay afloat while Stephen Curry endures a terrible slump, they'll at least have a (shooter's) chance.
Tonight, the Dubs showed off-ball movement and passing savvy that they didn't show at all in game two. In game four, the Warriors need to continue to move while hitting their shots (I'm sorry if you expected something more profound, but it's really quite simple). Don't have the worst offensive performance of your season, and you might win one. Then again, let's get back on that defense...the Cavs shot a very healthy 46% as a team in game three. But of course, they were also out-rebounded, out-assisted and attempted 14-fewer field goals.
Relax. Win on Thursday and we're good to go.