Little series drama remains as Warriors close in on third title in 4 years, but LeBron’s possible Cleveland finale could make for memorable Game 4
Game 3 of the 2018 NBA Finals played out quite similarly to Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals – Kevin Durant hit a dagger 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter and the Warriors took a 3-0 lead. That shot last season also effectively ended the Finals, but these teams seemed destined to keep battling in June for the foreseeable future. Then, Kyrie Irving demanded a trade and now, with LeBron James eligible to again hit free agency, Friday’s Game 4 could be the finale of the superstar’s second tenure in Cleveland.
Stephen Curry missed 13 of his first 14 shots and his first nine 3-pointers. Klay Thompson was a virtual non-factor on offense, finishing with 10 points on 4 of 11 shooting. If the pre-2017 Warriors got a game like that from the Splash Brothers, Golden State went home with a loss. But with Durant available to take over, Steve Kerr’s team survived and put a stranglehold on the series. Durant was incredible in Game 3, finishing with 43 points on just 23 shots and adding 13 rebounds and seven assists. James got some expected help – Kevin Love’s 20 and 13 boards – and some unexpected help – Rodney Hood’s 15 points off the bench after being a DNP until that point – but even with a triple-double, the King looked tired. He was 1 of 7 outside the paint in Game 3 and is 6 for 24 outside the restricted area in the past two games after having his jumper working in Game 1.
It’s hard to imagine Durant being as ridiculously efficient as he was in Game 3, but it’s also unrealistic to expect Curry and Thompson to struggle like they did. You could say Shaun Livingston, JaVale McGee and Jordan Bell won’t combine to shoot 13 of 17 again, but most of those looks were so easy due to penetration from Curry, Durant or Draymond Green – or a breakdown in the Cavs’ defense – that it’s quite possible.
So where do the Cavs turn? Aside from James having a truly transformational performance like he did in Game 1, it’s tough to find an answer. Love has been outstanding in the series, putting up 20 and 10 in each game after being unplayable at times in the last three Finals. J.R. Smith has scored 19 points in the first quarter in the series and nine over the final three. Jeff Green has been a complete non-factor, Hood can’t be counted on to replicate his Game 3 performance and Tyronn Lue doesn’t seem to trust Kyle Korver.
It will be interesting to see the mindset James brings to Game 4. As soon as the Finals end, his free agency will take center stage in the NBA narrative – heck, it already has in many ways – and the last time he hit this point with Cleveland in 2010, he looked checked out as the Cavs faced elimination. That seems unlikely eight years and three championships later, particularly at home, but it looked like the burden of his superhuman playoff effort was starting to catch up to him at times in Game 3.
74.7. That’s what the Warriors are shooting in the restricted area in these Finals, and that’s 13.7 percent higher than what the Cavs’ first three opponents in the playoff shot at the hoop.That percentage was in the 80s before Game 3, when Golden State got an absurd 37 looks right under the hoop. They only made 24, but the sheer volume was more of Cleveland’s issue than the percentage.
For the Cavaliers, it’s 31. That’s the total number of assists the rest of Cleveland’s roster outside of James has in the series. The four-time MVP has 32 himself, but there’s no one else on this team who can create for himself or others. Hood did as good a job as anyone else in Game 3, and he’ll see significant minutes in Game 4. But George Hill can’t break anyone down off the dribble. Jordan Clarkson was a Game 3 DNP – two games too late.
It’s both difficult to imagine and obscenely easy to think that Cleveland could be swept in this series.
It’s both difficult to imagine and obscenely easy to think that Cleveland could be swept in this series. They’ve played well enough to win two of the three games, but well enough gets you absolutely nothing against these Warriors. After the heartbreak of a Game 3 loss last season, the Cavs came out and hit 24 3s in rolling to a 21-point win that extended the series back to Oakland.
This Cleveland team doesn’t have that firepower. Irving’s absence has been readily apparent throughout this series, and it’s all on James if the Cavs are going to live to fight another day.