Well, it appears we’ve got a series.
After getting blown out by an NBA Finals record 48 points in Games 1 and 2, the Cleveland Cavaliers answered the bell as well as possible in Game 3, racing out to a 9-0 lead and beating the Golden State Warriors, 120-90.
LeBron James scored 32 points, Kyrie Irving scored 30 and J.R. Smith had 20, as Cleveland shot 52.7 percent from the floor and 12-of-25 (48.0 percent) from three.
How did this happen?
“They came out defensively and played with way more energy,” NBC Sports ProBasketballTalk.com’s Kurt Helin said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I mean, yeah, they hit shots. Kyrie Irving finally hit shots. J.R. Smith hit shots. Even LeBron’s jumper has returned from the grave. He was 1-of-9 outside of three feet in Game 2, and in Game 3 he’s just nocking down threes and making all these plays. But all that fed off their defense. From the opening tip, they were much more aggressive, much more physical and much more dialed in. They still had some breakdowns, but so much of this series, you’d see these back-cuts and the open lay-ups and they’d lose guys and they weren’t able to focus for the full 24 seconds. They really knocked Golden State back, forced turnovers, really did a lot of what they needed to do defensively, and then their offense was able to feed off of that and they looked really good doing it.”
The Cavs scored a whopping 57 points off turnovers and offensive rebounds. They also didn’t seem to miss Kevin Love, who sat out after taking a shot to the head in Game 2. Cleveland out-rebounded Golden State 52-32, as Tristan Thompson had 14 points and 13 rebounds.
“(Tyronn Lue is) not going to say this, but how much better were they tonight (without Love)?” Helin said. “And again, how much better defensively were they? Without tipping any confidences, I will tell you that there were people within the Golden State organization that were hoping Kevin Love would play, which should tell you everything you need to know. They think they can get him and exploit him and that he hurts their defense more than he helps their offense in this series. Kevin Love does some good things, but it’s a bad matchup in this series. We’ll see what happens.”
Helin said Lue might treat Love how Billy Donovan treated Enes Kanter. Kanter played a lot against San Antonio but not a lot against Golden State. The matchup dictated his playing time.
“It might be a situation like that where (Love will) play 10 to 15 minutes a game in spots against lineups where he’s not going to be hurt too much and that’s all he can do,” Helin said. “This is just a bad matchup for him. If he comes back on Friday and he starts and he plays 30 minutes, they’re going to take a step back defensively.”
Looking big picture, we’ve seen a lot of blowouts this postseason, and the average margin of victory in the Finals is 26 points.
“It’s been relatively unpredictable,” Helin said. “Tonight I think a lot of people, myself included, thought Cleveland could very well win this game, or would win the game, but it would be very close. Who saw this coming? They’re going to have to play that well again – or a little better – on Friday because I think you’re going to get a much better version of the Warriors.”