The Cavaliers blew out the Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals Wednesday, but don’t think its a harbinger of things to come.
The Cleveland Cavaliers had a sterling Game 3 performance in a 120-90 win over the Warriors Wednesday night.
It was the kind of blowout win that gets people excited, gets people saying “we have a series” — the kind of blowout that leads to laudatory articles about critical adjustments and genius gameplans and paradigm shifts.
But here’s the thing: the Cavs didn’t do anything to mess up the Warriors Wednesday night.
The Cavs played a tremendous game – by far their best game of the series — but there wasn’t some dramatic gameplan change that helped them win what was a must-win game.
It’s a make-or-miss league. Wednesday night, the Warriors missed, while the Cavs, for the first time in the series, made.
The shots the Warriors missed Wednesday night weren’t increasingly contested or out of the norm. The Warriors ran their sets, and while the Cavs were more engaged on defense in Game 3, Golden State’s shooters still saw looks they liked — open looks.
The Warriors had 37 uncontested shots in Game 3 — only three fewer than their average between Games 1 and 2 — but Golden State shooters only made 15 of those open looks Wednesday.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, two of the greatest shooters in NBA history, combined to shoot 33 percent on their uncontested shots in Game 3. The duo made only four of their 16 3-point attempts Wednesday, giving the Splash Brothers one fewer make than Cavs swingman JR Smith, who was 5-of-10 from beyond the arc.
The Cavs didn’t increase the number of 3-pointers they attempted in Game 3 — they’re continuing to be outshot by the Warriors from distance — but they still made two more 3s than the Warriors, who shot 27 percent from beyond the arc Wednesday.
Sometimes you make, sometimes you miss. The real question is if you really think those shooting numbers will hold true in three of the next four games.
You shouldn’t. The Warriors don’t stay cold for long, and the Cavs weren’t doing anything schematically different in Game 3.
Kyrie Irving showed up to the Finals in Game 3, but he was playing the same game he played in Games 1 and 2. He just made shots Wednesday. They weren’t necessary great shots either — two-thirds of Irving’s Game 3 field goals were unassisted.
LeBron James made mid-range jump shots in Game 3 — he didn’t score from midrange in the first two games of the series — and that opened up a bit for the Cavs’ offense, but the mid-range game wasn’t prolific enough to think those six points were the difference in the contest.
The Warriors’ poor shooting doesn’t add up to a 30-point blowout loss either, but allowing the Cavs to have 35 extra possessions certainly explains a lot.
The Cavs’ 17 offensive rebounds resulted in 23 second-chance points — the Warriors’ 18 turnovers turned into 34 points the other way. Those are energy points — the Cavs pounced on the Warriors’ lack of fight early in the contest and never relented.
Even the coaches admitted that effort was the main (if not sole) difference in the contest.
“The only change is just playing hard,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said after the game.
“We weren’t ready to play,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We were extremely soft to start the game, and then they set the tone with their intensity … It’s going to take more than an effort like that to win a Finals game against a great team, obviously.”
It’s almost – almost — excusable for the Warriors to have shown a lack of effort in Game 3 — after all, Games 1 and 2 looked so easy.
And of course the Cavs came out ready and rearing for Game 3 — they’re an excellent basketball team that was in a do-or-die mode.
Or, as Draymond Green summed it up: “They came out and played like a team with a sense of desperation, like their season was on the line, and we came out and played like everything was peaches and cream.”
But the challenge has been established for the Warriors ahead of Game 4, and while the contest is critical, the feelings of desperation can’t possibly be as strong for the Cavs in Friday’s contest.
The Cavs played a tremendous offensive game Wednesday — one that they should aim to repeat in Game 4 and beyond — but they didn’t do anything to give the impression that they have figured out how to beat the 87-win Warriors on either end of the court. They merely found themselves on the other end of poor shooting and lackadaisical efforts. Credit to them for capitalizing on the opportunity.
And if Lue is being honest in his assessment that the only change between the Cavs’ Game 1 and 2 losses and Game 3 win was effort, then the Warriors’ gameplan to win Game 4 is simple, easily implemented, and replicable.
“We’re still up 2-1, and law of averages, it will all even out. Just got to keep the confidence high,” Thompson said.
The Cavs haven’t figured out anything — they just showed up in a big way on a day the Warriors took off.