Thursday, June 08, 2017

Game 3 -Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

"We're not going to change our game because of who we're playing," Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said after two humiliating defeats in Oakland. Perhaps Coach Lue should have taken the opponent into account and changed something. After giving up 40 points in the first quarter of Game 2, the Cavs ceded 39 points in the first twelve minutes of Game 3.

Cleveland hung in the game and even ended the third quarter with a lead thanks to two men, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. LeBron scored 39 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists. Those nine assists don't tell the story. James's passing was about as good as the game has seen since Magic Johnson, particularly int he fourth quarter. Irving exhibited his ball handling and finishing difference. At one point, Kyrie (38 points) performed his best Marques Haynes impression and dribbled around four Warrior defenders in transition. He even scuttled for a key offensive rebound in the fourth.

But LeBron and Kyrie were gassed by the end of the game. They had spent most of the game saving up their energy on the defensive end in order to carry the offensive load. By the end they had nothing left. The blame should be squarely put on Coach Lue's shoulders.

LeBron's impressive passing masked his exhaustion. He had to pass- to teammates who were never able to establish a rhythm- because he had virtually nothing left. Up three points late int he game, Draymond Green set a pick for Kevin Durant. James didn't try to fight the screen- instead he meekly fell back with Green leaving Tristan Thompson on the four-time scoring champion. Durant glided to an easy deuce.

LeBron passed to Kyle Korver in the corner, but Korver missed a three. Durant grabbed the board, dribbled down, and fired a three. LeBron was guarding Durant, but hung underneath the three point line, allowing an open shot from a deadly shooter. That gave the Warriors the lead, 114-113.

Irving then had the ball and tried to make a last dribbling Houdini act against Klay Thompson one last time. But instead, he dribbled the ball around and fired a desperation three with 26 seconds left. It took the Cavs 14 precious seconds to foul. They waited for one of the game's best shooters to get the ball before they finally did. After two Durant free throws, LeBron James took a corner three that was blocked by Andre Iguodala. Golden State ultimately won 188-133 finishing on an 11-0 run.

Clevleand was most successful in the third quarter and early fourth when they played halfcourt basketball and moved the ball in order to get a shot in the paint. The Warriors will beat Cleveland in a run and gun game or a three point shooting contest every time. That Lue didn't try something new from the outset is astonishing. He overplayed LeBron and Kyrie. Not only did they fade badly late int he game, but the other players never got into the game to step up. J.R. Smith added 16 points, but the rest of the role players and Kevin Love were awful.

Two years ago, Matthew Dellavadova and Timofey Mozgov both posted 20 point games for Cleveland in the Finals as the Cavs held an improbable 2-1 lead under David Blatt despite injuries to Irving and Love. Under Lue, Cleveland's success is dependent on the individual greatness of its stars. The role players, who are better than those under Blatt, have regressed significantly.The team's only hope are legendary games by LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love.

While Cleveland is stuck in a losing strategy, Golden State keeps winning. Kevin Durant had his third straight 30 point game of the 2017 Finals. Klay Thomspon erupted for 30 and Stephen Curry added 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists. Draymond Green had yet another good all-around game. This time, the veteran reserves were valuable. Iguodala, David West, and Shaun Livingston combined for 20 points. Iguodala added 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals.

Cleveland made history with a 3-1 comeback last Finals thanks to LeBron and Kyrie. They'll have to make history again to win it all. Golden State leads 3-0.

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