He stood tall, and so did the Cavaliers.
James had 32 points and 11 rebounds, Kyrie Irving added 30 points and Cleveland, pushed for 48 minutes by a delirious, championship-starved crowd, hammered the Golden State Warriors 120-90 in Game 3 on Wednesday night to pull within 2-1 in the NBA Finals. Game 4 is tonight.
On their home floor, where they have been dominant all post-season, the Cavs recovered from a 33-point loss in Game 2 and yanked their season from the brink of disaster following back-to-back blowouts in the Bay Area.
“We finally got back to our game,” said James, whose energy from the start electrified 20,000 fans, and his team-mates. “It was a good flow, a collective team win.”
They Cavs did it without starting forward Kevin Love, with little help from their bench and by keeping Stephen Curry penned in.
The league’s MVP was mostly MIA, scoring 19 points, two in the first half, on 6-of-13 shooting. Harrison Barnes scored 18 and Klay Thompson 10 for the Warriors, who had won seven straight over Cleveland (the first two finals games by a combined 48 points) and came back to the birthplace of rock’n’ roll looking to party like they did after winning the title last year.
The Warriors didn’t look anything like the team that won a record 73 games during the regular season or the one that overcame a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference finals.
“We were soft,” said coach Steve Kerr. “When you’re soft, you get beat on the glass and turn the ball over.”
Curry didn’t offer any excuses, but the two-time MVP hasn’t been himself so far in this series.
“I’ve got to play 100 times better than that,” he said, dismissing any notion he’s slowed by injuries. “I’m fine. Not the way we wanted the night to go.”
This is the first time since 1965 there’s been two 30-point margin of victories in the NBA Finals — and the first time that teams have both won and lost games by 30 in the title series. There hadn’t even been an instance of a team winning one game by 20 and losing the next by 20 since the Chicago-Seattle series in 1996.
Try to make sense of that. It’s not just this series — these playoffs are on pace for the highest average margin of victory that the NBA has ever seen. In theory, a matchup of the Eastern Conference and Western Conference champions should at least occasionally have some moments of drama in the final minutes.
So far, that’s nowhere to be found in this series.
“The only change is just playing hard,” said Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, who wasn’t going to spell out the specifics of the new ideas gleaned from the Cavaliers’ strategy sessions on Monday and Tuesday.
While Lue wasn’t sharing, the Cavaliers — even with Love in the locker room — might have figured something out on Wednesday night. They didn’t switch as often against Golden State’s steady diet of pick-and-rolls, and they showed the Warriors some new wrinkles — partly out of desperation, partly because they had different personnel units capable of different things.
“I think the game would have been the same whether he played or not,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Love after Game 3.
“This was about one team being emotionally fired up and angry about being down 2-0, and another team being comfortable. So I don’t think that had anything to do with it. I think it was just the level of intensity that they brought. They would have brought it with Kevin, too. So I don’t think it made a difference.”