The Warriors are one away from their second straight title and the completion of the greatest basketball season of all time. Can LeBron and his Cavs find enough to bring it back to Cleveland?
For the first time in nine games this playoffs, the Cavs lost at home. After being up by eight early in the third quarter, the refs choked on their whistles and let the two teams scrap it out to an eventual 108-97 Warriors win, putting them one game away from a second-straight title.
LeBron James was in the middle of mild altercations with the always-jawing Draymond Green, who is one flagrant foul away from being sidelined by the league for a game and, ostensibly, the rest of the finals — and toward the end of the 4th, Steph Curry.
Watching the N.B.A.’s yin and yang illuminati exchange words ending with Curry flashing a “c’mon man, you’re LeBron James” grin had The Network sympathetically cutting away.
It has been James, after all, who emerged from the sweet shores of Miami Beach to single-handedly lift his hometown and its fans like a chinstrapped Leviathan and carry them to two straight Finals. His reward: to be met by one of the deepest teams of all time — whose singular game plan, to stop him, is uniformly unfair compared to the number of looks they bring.
Game 3, which was dominated by James, featured the same amount of physical play as Friday but the Warriors were not keyed in defensively. And when that happens, as it did toward the end of the regular season in Los Angeles and back-to-back at home against the Celtics and the Timberwolves, not to mention two road games against OKC in the Western Conference Finals, the shots don’t fall.
When the Warriors finally did dial in at the end of the third, Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving was met with a wall of small-ball lineup defenders in Klay Thompson or Green in the paint.
James, fronted by Green, Andre Iguodala and at times Klay Thompson (or all three) started turning the ball over (he had seven of the team’s 11) and the Warriors started to get better looks on their end, burying three pointers; 17 in total, an N.B.A. playoff record.
Beyond this, Cleveland was unable to rotate the ball or keep up in transition as they did so well in Game 3. Countless times, James, acting as point guard, would dribble at the top of the key looking to set something up only to see the shot clock dwindle down to single digits. Once in awhile he could pull up for a midrange J or find someone on a wing, but more often than not, the ball clanked into the hands of a Warrior from Festus Ezeli to one James Michael Ray McAdoo, who saw more time in the fourth than three fifths of the Warriors’ starters.
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 63 points and Irving, for his part, was able to punch in with 34. A dude in white jeans with “Trump Sucks” written on his chest stormed the court.
Finally, something fans from both sides could agree on.
Monday, the Warriors will be in closing mode at home. It is a must-win for them as a loss takes the series back to Cleveland and portends a game seven.
With Luke Walton relishing his final moments on the Warrior bench before having to do time as Jeanie Marie Buss’s pool boy this summer, the Warriors seem to be more ready for a long shower and a spliff than a Starbucks barista closing in on the end of a double.
Game 5 and the speculation over how long James and Walton embrace at the end of the game and what that all means starts 6 p.m. Monday.