The Warriors should be worried.
The Cavaliers clearly have a plan. Shut down Stephen Curry, take away transition points, defend against the 3-pointer. Win.
Cleveland’s plan was perfectly executed Tuesday as the Cavaliers took a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals with a 96-91 victory behind a 40-point, 12-rebound, eight-assist LeBron James double-double.
The Warriors unraveled slowly. When Curry hit a three in the first quarter, it looked like the shooting woes were over. But Golden State couldn’t get out in transition at all.
Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr credited the Cavaliers defense. He said the energy will have to be better in Game 4 if the Warriors expect to win:
“We never really were able to get out and run … We still feel like we can get out, push it, and force the tempo, and we’ve got to try to do a better job of that.”
By halftime, it was clear the Cavaliers defense wasn’t going to give up the same fast-break daggers that other teams had allowed the Warriors. And bigger than that, they weren’t going to allow Curry to dominate. That three Curry had in the first quarter were his only points of the half.
On the jumbo screen a picture of Pamela Anderson from her Baywatch days and the words “This is a no splash zone.” The Warriors would have to find another way to win, but they couldn’t.
Curry knew beating the Cavs would be difficult, no matter the injuries or circumstances. He said going forward, he needs to not rely so much on his shot:
“If it’s not going our way, or not going my way specifically, I’ve got to find different ways to get us going … This is going to be a hard-fought series, and I’ve got to have a huge part in it.”
Golden State went into halftime with just 37 points on the board, a scoring low by the Warriors in any half this postseason.
Midway through the third quarter, Curry, trying to utilize his other weapon, his thread-and-needle type ball handling, had the ball stripped away and on the other end James drilled a three.
Draymond Green with four fouls and no juice, was blocked by Mozgov, and again on the other end James scored.
The Cavs extended their lead to as many as 20 points with James and Matthew Dellavedova combining for 23 of Cleveland’s 28 third-quarter points.
Golden State made a run for it. That’s what they do.
The Warriors surged to cut the Cavs’ lead to one point in the final frame with Curry’s 21 second-half points.
But James wouldn’t have it. After Dellavedova converted an and-one play, James hit another trey, bringing the Cleveland fans to their feet.
Despite James willing the Cavaliers to another victory, he said the Warriors fourth-quarter comeback left him with a bad taste in his mouth:
“It’s not satisfying. … I told the guys ‘it’s okay.’ The best teacher in life is experience and we experienced it tonight. We’ll watch a lot of film tomorrow, work on ways to get better and close out games the best way and we’ll be ready for ’em Game 4.”
With less than a minute to play, Curry’s inbound pass meant for Klay Thompson was snatched out of the air by James and the Warriors were forced to foul to stop the freight train.
James said he was in tune, he knew what was coming. He pointed at his head with a smirk on his way to the charity stripe.
Curry was able to rattle off desperation shots, but the Warriors, down by three points with 17 seconds to play, were forced to foul James who hit clutch foul shots to seal the Game 3 win.
The Warriors, down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, play Game 4 of the Finals Thursday in Cleveland before returning home to host Game 5.