Larry W. Smith/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Cavaliers avenge blowout with 30-point victory against the Golden State Warriors in Game 3

Left for dead by most impartial observers, the Cleveland Cavaliers bounced back with a 30-point win at home against the Golden State Warriors, and now have a chance to tie the series 2-2 on Friday.

Golden State Warriors - 90
Cleveland Cavaliers - 120 
Box Score 

Warriors lead series 2-1 

Miscellaneous SportsCenter Anchor: "Stephen A., after Game 2 you said, 'The Cleveland Cavaliers were the worst collection of people to ever assemble for the purpose of any human endeavor since the creation of the universe.' Now that the Cavaliers have won by 30 points at home, what do you have to say?"

Stephen A. Smith: "You know what? I overreacted to Game 1, I overreacted to Game 2, and NOW I'm gonna overreact to Game 3. I have to say, that effort by the Golden State Warriors was terr-ible. The Warriors are doomed. It's like the space shuttle Challenger collided with the Hindenburg and both landed on top of the Titanic while everyone was listening to The Life of Pablo. I won't be able to see imagine them recovering from this until it's time to overreact to Game 4, at which point it will be painfully obvious." 

Miscellaneous SportsCenter Anchor: "What do you think, Tim Legler?" 

Tim Legler: "Well if you look at the tape, the Cavalier defen-"

Miscellaneous SportsCenter Anchor: "Sorry, Tim, I'm going to need to stop you right there. The network thinks you do too much ... thinking. Could you just stand there, and do your best not to look bewildered when Stephen A. says borderline crazy things? We're going to try something new here, and we're bringing an anonymous blogger on the broadcast to talk about the Cavaliers in Game 3. [Insert cliche joke about how the blogger probably lives in his mother's basement.]" 

Me: "Actually, I live 3000 miles away from my mother and have a caree-"

Miscellaneous SportsCenter Anchor: "No one cares. Do you have anything to say?" 

Me: "Well, I think tonight showed, as has most of every NBA Playoffs ever, that we have two very good teams capable of winning this series. Both teams will continue to make adjustments, and ultimately the team with a greater combination of talent and smarts will probably prevail sometime in the next two-to-four games." 

Miscellaneous SportsCenter Anchor: "Uhh, OK. Fascinating. So, Stephen A., you had tweeted something about Stephen Curry being worse than the new Ninja Turtles movie ... ." 

It turns out the Cavaliers are not the worst team in NBA history! Who'd have thunk? Granted, things looked grim after Game 2, and though I still think it will require a minor miracle for the Cavs to beat the Warriors in a series, the Cavaliers did use its Marauder's Map to find a path to a series victory on Wednesday night. Let's take the secret passageway behind the box score and see how. 

32, 11, 6, 40 - LeBron James finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists in over 40 minutes of playing time in a game in which he sat the final four-plus minutes. It was an amazing game of ups-and-downs, and the epitome of what James is as a basketball player: not always the neatest or tidiest, but always the most. He does more for his team than anyone in the league, and has for most of the past decade.

James started 4-of-4 in the first quarter, mostly on uncontested buckets in an attack position. James followed that with a frustrating 1-of-10 quarter in which he couldn't get a call from a telemarketer, despite taking seven of his 10 shots within five feet of the hoop. He responded with a masterful 13 point, three rebound, two assist, two block, +17 third quarter. The cherry on top was a 4-of-6, four rebound, two assist half-quarter, during which he did the bulk of the ball-handling and put the game out of reach. Oh, and he set a bonanza of screens on offense to create mismatches, defended Warrior linchpin Draymond Green during long stretches, and harassed Stephen Curry when the Warriors were foolish enough to throw James' man into a screen. 

Though it was imperfect (see the second quarter, and his sometimes-sloppy five turnovers), it was a masterpiece game. It was James' ninth 30/5/5 game in the Finals (second only to Jordan in Basketball-Reference's archives) and his seventh 30/10/5 game in the Finals (tied with Kareem for the most ever). If this series has a happy ending for the Cavaliers, the turning point may have been the third quarter, when James busted out his midrange jumper like the anniversary lingerie — an adjustment to when he wasn't getting calls or shots to fall in the second. If James' midrange jumper continues to fall, and he's unafraid to use it, then that will allow him to use his first step to maneuver around the initial defender, opening up the entire offense. His alley-oop conversion when Kyrie Irving passed the ball to the Jumbotron was one of the most mesmerizing dunks of the season, and his rejection of a dead-ball Steph Curry layup attempt was the punctuation mark in a game the Cavaliers desperately needed. James had the cape, utility belt, and Kevlar body armor on in Game 3. 

33 - The Cavaliers received 33 productive, competent, valuable minutes from Richard Jefferson, who started in place of the injured Kevin Love. Jefferson did his thing on offense (hitting open threes, being in the right place, attacking the hoop when the opportunity presents himself), but has also been reliable on defense. I think the key discovery here is this: You don't need to be quick to defend the Warriors, you need to be long. That's how the Oklahoma City Thunder challenged the Warriors, and that's why the Cavaliers are comfortable switching Jefferson onto pretty much anyone but Curry, including Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, and even Draymond Green. Jefferson's energy and intensity have been a huge boost for the Cavaliers, not something you'd expect from someone who just set the record for longest time between NBA Finals starts at nearly 13 years. Given how well the Cavalier defense played in the first quarter, I would expect Coach Tyronn Lue to start Jefferson — with or without Kevin Love — until the first quarter results urge him to reconsider. 

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- Another unsung hero was Timofey Mozgov, insomuch as anyone who played six minutes can be a hero. He didn't score much (2 points), but (and I swear this is important) he set great screens in the first quarter to help the Cavaliers build on their early lead. Though everyone is waiting in line to push Kevin Love under a bus, the Cavs needed Mozgov's early minutes with Love sidelined, and it was important that Mozgov wasn't an unmitigated disaster. And he wasn't! Irving's ability to manipulate Mozgov's big body repeatedly on screens until Irving had an attack angle helped spring Irving's first quarter barrage (more on that in a second). Honestly, though Mozgov isn't the savior Angry Post-Loss Radio Show Caller thinks he is, the Cavs can probably play him whenever Festus Ezeli is on the floor and neutralize whatever good Ezeli does the Warriors (which may be "limited" and "fleeting" after Game 3). Klay Thompson would go on to call Mozgov's screen on him in the second quarter "dirty," which is a weird conclusion for what looked like a routine screen and bad timing, but you be the judge. 

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16 - Kyrie Irving combusted for 16 points in the first quarter on Game 3, allowing everyone within 75 miles of Quicken Loans Arena to breathe a sigh of relief. With despair creeping into the minds of Cavalier fans after the nightmare that was Game 2, it was important to ward off the demons in the early going, which Irving did to the tune of 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the first, finishing the game with 30 points on 12-of-25 shooting and even eight assists (leading the team). I didn't love Irving's shot selection (there were too many long, pull-up jumpers that were not a result of any play-like action), but the Cavs will need some plain ol' tough shot-making from Irving to have a prayer going forward in the series. I will give exalted praise to Irving's defense, though — after being torched in Games 1 and 2, Irving defended Stephen Curry admirably, and was seldom allowed dribble penetration or a backdoor cut in Game 3. If Irving hounds Curry like a police dog on an active shooter for the rest of the series, there's a legitimate chance the Cavs can stay in this thing. 

14 & 13 - Tristan Thompson put forth a heroic effort for the Cavaliers on Wednesday night with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Seven of those rebounds were of the offensive variety, giving the Cavaliers bonus possessions when the Cavs offense sputtered — six of his seven offensive board came in the second quarter, when the Cavaliers scored a total of 18 points and the Warriors cut the Cavalier lead from 17 to 8. It was only the second time that Thompson has scored more than 10 points in this year's playoffs, and a reminder of how sorely the Cavs miss his bonus scoring from put-backs, drive-and-dish, and pick-and-rolls when their three-point blaster isn't in the "ON" mode. 

13 - There were a handful of stats to choose from for J.R. Smith, but the most important one was his 13 in field goal attempts column. Smith had a total of nine shots in the first two games of the series, which means that the Cavs were under-utilizing one of their offensive weapons, not stretching the floor, and failing to keep Smith engaged in the game. Even though Smith missed his first three shots on Wednesday, the Cavaliers didn't sell their stock in PipeCo, and were greatly rewarded for it. On offense, J.R. shot with confidence (finishing 7-of-13), attacked and shot over Curry, and wasn't afraid to put the ball on the floor. On defense, he was engaged at all times, communicated well, and frustrated Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, or whoever he was switched onto. Smith finished with 20 points and a team-high plus/minus of +33. It was a great performance by Smith. 

35 - Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green combined for only 35 points in Game 3, which is the triumvirate's lowest point total since 2014 according to ESPN, a remarkable figure. Open shots were missed by all, but credit the Cavaliers for contesting more shots than they did in Games 1 and 2. Curry and Klay continue to shoot like mortals, but after three games it's starting to look more like a trend than an aberration. The Cavaliers are trying to make anyone other than Curry beat them, and they did a better job of scrambling to contest shots than they did in Oakland. Curry or Klay (and probably both) will explode at some point (just ask the state of Oklahoma), but perhaps the Cavaliers can tie the series before they have a chance to. The Cavaliers made some positive adjustments in Game 3, but they'll have to counter whatever coach Steve Kerr whips up to really make this series interesting on Friday. 


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