Cavaliers breathe life into NBA finals with Warriors thrashing
Cleveland reduce deficit to just one game as Stephen Curry’s struggles continue
LeBron James holds off Stephen Curry during the NBA Finals game three. Photograph: Epa
Steph Curry continues to not be himself. This is fine when the rest of the Golden State Warriors are hitting their shots, and the team with the best regular-season record in history can keep moving forward. But on Wednesday night’s Game 3 of the NBA finals, Curry was not Curry, and there was not enough from the other players to make up the difference.
Rather than step on the verge of a sweep, the Warriors were instead walloped 120-90 by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, suddenly, these finals that looked to belong to Golden State have tightened into a series, as Golden State’s lead has been cut to 2-1.
The box score will say that LeBron James had 32 points, Kyrie Irving 30 and JR Smith 20 for the Cavs in a complete domination of the Warriors. But the statistical line that will resonate more is that of Curry, who has won the NBA’s last two MVP awards. His 19 points were mostly silent, coming after the game had been decided. He finished with more fouls (four) than assists (three) and played either banged up, distracted or both.
Given the way Curry struggled against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals with a series of uneven performances, and has not scored at will in the finals, the questions will arise again if everything is fine with Golden State’s star guard. He has said his knee, sprained early in these playoffs, is not an impediment. The Cavaliers were physical with him, as opponents in the last two rounds have been, and there have been reports throughout he playoffs that he is only about 70% healthy – but his disappearance in Game 3 was alarming.
In just one evening, the conversation about this series has gone from a dissection of James’s lackluster supporting cast in Cleveland to more questions about Curry. On a night when the Cavaliers didn’t play Kevin Love, who is still recovering from a concussion suffered in Game 2, they came to life and stifled the Warriors at the same time.
Cleveland was desperate on Wednesday night. There was no way the Cavs could go down 3-0 to the Warriors and realistically hope to win the series. And so they came into the game with a ferocity not seen in the previous two. Defensively they harassed Curry and Klay Thompson into forcing up jump shots they did not seem comfortable taking. As the Warriors’ attempts clanged off the rim, Cleveland went on a ferocious run, hoping to end the game immediately, scoring nine points before Golden State could make a basket.
“You have to throw the first punch (down 0-2) and we did that tonight,” JR Smith said after the game.
The Warriors looked flustered in the game’s opening minutes. As Curry struggled to find his shot, he seemed sluggish, unable to generate energy. Toward the end of the first quarter he picked up two quick fouls as he tussled with bigger and stronger Cleveland players. His second came as he tried to fight for position with the Cavaliers’ Channing Frye, who had a forearm in Curry’s throat as Curry rabbled at Frye’s jersey to free himself.
By the end of the first quarter, the Warriors trailed Cleveland 33-16, and their best player had no points and two fouls. Curry sat for long stretches of the second quarter after picking up a third foul as Thompson and Harrison Barnes scored enough baskets to keep Golden State close. Finally, with 4:06 left in the half, Curry scored his first points on a layup. A half-court shot from Smith that swished through the basket just before half-time was waved off because it came an instant after the buzzer, and it left Golden State down just eight points and within striking distance after a disastrous first half.
But instead of riding the late first-half rally at the start of the second half, Curry and Golden State came flat. Curry quickly threw up a wayward three-point attempt, then botched a steal and fast break, when he lobbed a pass out of Thompson’s reach. The Warriors seemed hopeless, as James and Irving kept running off on fast breaks and pouring in baskets.
Toward the end of the third quarter, Curry finally started to hit three point-shots and look more like the Curry of old – but by then it was too late. The Cavs’ lead was in double figures, and when Irving flipped a lob above the basket that James caught with one hand and slammed home with 2:48 left in the quarter, the Cavaliers’ lead had grown to 20, and the roar inside the arena seemed to bury the Warriors, who appeared helpless to do anything about it.
Now they have to see if they can re-ignite Curry, otherwise the second straight championship that looked certain a few days before might be much harder to get.