– Jim Bearor
The Cavaliers have taken control of the NBA Finals, and it goes deeper than the 2-1 lead they have over the Warriors.
Matthew Dellavedova has won over fans everywhere by filling Kyrie Irving’s shoes and putting the clamps on Curry, the regular season MVP. The Cavaliers that remain aren’t “The Big Three” or “The Splash Bros”, they’re six pretty average or mediocre guys led by LeBron James, who is on pace to break every NBA Finals record there is. James is two wins away from Akron, Ohio building a statue of him, and he knows it.
As he confirmed in his interview with Dwyane Wade following Game 3, his concentration and determination to win are at an all-time high. This mindset has spread through the locker room, and it’s evident in the play of guys like Mozgov, Thompson, and Dellavedova. The team embodies the blue collar culture of Cleveland, and with LeBron’s “homecoming” narrative coming to a head, this is the perfect storm to make America fall in love with them.
The Cavs have all the momentum they could ever want right now, and although they’re only one game up on Golden State, it feels like they’re dominating. If we scored this like boxing, and every quarter was a round, I think Cleveland would be up 10-2. Besides when they went ice cold during overtime in Game 1, the Cavaliers have controlled the tempo throughout with tough, pesky defense and a lot of shots by LeBron James.
It would be foolish to count out the Warriors so early in the series, but my eyeballs are telling me that the Cavs are kicking their asses. Then, there’s my brain telling me that Golden State goes 10 deep, and they haven’t lost three games in a row all season. They’re the better team on paper, but Cleveland has been the aggressor to this point.
It reminds me of Tyson’s quote, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Due to their lack of Finals experience, and the hard-nosed approach of their opponents, the Warriors are in a tough spot right now. They’re either going to stay the course and have faith in the style of play that has gotten them to this point, or Coach Kerr is going to make some significant adjustments, because getting hit in the face hurts, and he really doesn’t want to keep getting punched in the face.
Here’s my take on what the Warriors will need to do to take back momentum and win this championship:
Curry and Thompson need to be the heroes. It’s as simple as this: when they’re not hitting shots, the Warriors aren’t hitting shots. That was the story of Game 3, where Curry’s too-little-too-late 20 points in the fourth quarter was the only sign of life from Golden State all game. Both Steph and Klay have acknowledged that the issue lies in the quality of shots they’re taking, which is something that I think will make a difference in Game 4. I expect them to shoot without hesitation, and I think they’ll take more shots. They’ll need to so Green and Bogut don’t have to do too much.
Curry has to dominate Dellavedova. Steph Curry needs to be Daniel-san from the Karate Kid. Johnny the Cobra Kai just swept his leg, and he needs to prove he’s the best around, and that nothing’s ever gonna keep him down. For real though, Curry needs to expose Matthew Dellavedova because he’s very capable of it, and his team really, really needs his help. I think something clicked near the end of Game 3 for Curry, and I think it’s going to carry over.
Draymond Green needs to do less, David Lee needs to do more. This is in line with my first point about Curry and Thompson shouldering the scoring load. It seems that whenever those two go cold, the rest of the team goes into panic mode and starts tossing up bad shots. I think at the core of this all is the quality of shots being taken, and Green’s performance in Game 3 really hurt the Warriors. I understand his back injury is a part of this, but he has to lay off the gas a little. He needs to slow his roll and play within himself because the Warriors don’t need him to be a star, they need him to be efficient and not screw up.
David Lee, on the other hand, has been playing great whenever he’s called upon. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coach Kerr let him play a little bit longer as he spreads the minutes a little less thin among his bench. Lee is a former All Star and a solid defender, and he showed in Game 3, even playing at center when Golden State went with their small lineup, doing a respectable job defending James. Although he’s barely done anything all season, Lee might be the missing piece. He’s a veteran, he’s great at setting picks for Steph Curry, and he can provide some much needed help in the paint.
The Warriors have to punch back. They’re going to need to steal at least one of these last two games in Cleveland, and they’re going to have to play the slow, physical kind of game the Cavs love so much, and beat them at it. Golden State is a young team, and that has been made apparent in these Finals in the worst way. LeBron James is in the middle of his sixth NBA Finals appearance, and the rest of his team is following his lead. The Warriors don’t have that kind of experience. They’re new to this, and they shouldn’t be blamed for it or anything, but the team has – for the most part – shrunk in the spotlight throughout this series.
Curry has to be the one to do it. Klay can be his Samwise Gamgee to Steph’s Frodo Baggins, but only Steph can carry this burden. He’s the MVP. He’s LeBron’s counterpart in this series, like it or not, and LeBron is dominating that matchup. Curry needs to attack all game. He needs to take good shots, but more importantly, he just needs to take shots. He needs to silence the crowd by leading the Warriors on the kind of 10-0 runs that he has done so often this year. He needs the kind of game that wipes the slate clean for Golden State and renews their confidence.
If Curry plays well early on, the team should get some of their mojo back. More than anything else, the Warriors need Steph Curry to try and do what LeBron James has been doing on offense: amp up his shooting responsibilities. If Golden State really does have the fight in them to beat the Cavs at home, I think Curry needs to be the one to throw the first punch.
By Jim Bearor, @JimBearor