Golden State Warriors - 108
Cleveland Cavaliers - 97
Warriors lead series 3-1
What were you expecting? A Cleveland team to play well in a meaningful game? Shame on you.
At the sake of being insultingly obvious, Game 3 was important for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It wasn’t important merely because they shifted the series with the Golden State Warriors into 1-2, Maybe-We-Can-Tie-This-Thing-on-Friday Mode, instead of letting it slide into 0-3, How-Long-Can-We-Postpone-Our-Inevitable-Demise Mode. It wasn’t even important because the Cavs won by a lavish 30 points. What was important about Game 3 was the Cavs, after being non-competitive in the first two games of the series, illuminated a path forward in the Finals — they showed us that, even if the final cut doesn’t have a happy resolution, there is an alternate ending in which our heroes survive.
But the studio doesn't look so receptive to that ending. If you believe in miracles, there's still a chance something AMAZING could happen in this series. But we'll save any vestige of hope for later. Now is a time for despair. Because the Cavaliers got away from what made Game 3 such a success, resurrecting such unwelcome characters as Turnovery LeBron and Over-Dribbley Irving. It was a nasty episode, and now things are about as grim as they can be. But enough fuss — let's take a look behind the box score. You might want to pour yourself a stiff one for these next few hundred words.
17 - The Golden State Warriors killed the Cavaliers from long-range on Friday, hitting an NBA Finals record 17 three-pointers. They shot 47.2 percent on threes (36 attempts), and made more three-point field goals (17) than two-point field goals (16). The poutiest of Cleveland fans will play this off as some sort of fluke, or freak occurrence that the Warriors benefitted from — a bunch of scammers benefitting from an unjust loophole in the system. That was hardly the case. The Warriors' record-breaking night was not a result of some improbable shooting bonanza from Mareese Speights or Andrew Bogut or even the dastardly Draymond Green. This was Stephen Curry — the guy who made over 400 three-pointers this season — and Klay Thompson — the guy who made 276 threes this season — hitting open shots that they were practically invited to take by the Cavaliers. The two of them entered Game 3 averaging a meager (by their standards) 28.0 points combined in the Finals.
That wasn't going to continue even if the Cavaliers played good defense ... and they didn't. The second half was an overall disaster — complete with a half-naked fan running on the floor — but especially defensively. The Cavs didn't seem to know what the game plan was to defend the pick-and-roll. On one possession in the second half, Channing Frye and Kyrie Irving trapped Curry (what you want to do off of everyone but Klay) hard off a Thompson screen while the rest of the Warriors played pattycake with the other Cavaliers 20 feet from the ball. Curry found Thompson for what might as well have been a 24-foot layup. Mere possessions later, Frye and Irving both chased Thompson when he didn't even screen Irving, leaving Curry with a wide-open shot (he missed it, but you get the point).
To add to the super shooters, Harrison Barnes continues to be on fire — high comedy, because Barnes is basically reviled by Warriors fans — hitting 4-of-5 threes on Friday after shooting 7-of-11 overall in Game 3 — but you need to live with that if you're the Cavaliers. Anyway, the defensive communication was poor, the individual defense wasn't as good as it was in Game 3, and the Warriors exploited it for all it was worth, three points at a time. To be a dick about it, it wasn't "championship" level defense from the Cavaliers in Game 4.
6 - Meanwhile, the Cavaliers made only 6 three-pointers all night ... on 25 attempts. That's a lousy 24.0 percent. The Cavaliers missed a few open threes (particularly Iman Shumpert), but unlike the Warriors the Cavaliers' three attempts didn't result from a recognizable offense, but were hasty tosses off of no action or desperate launches with the shot clock expiring. J.R. Smith (2-of-8), Kyrie Irving (2-of-6), LeBron James (1-of-5), and Iman Shumpert (0-of-3) all struggled from deep. Meanwhile, Channing Frye (56.5 percent in the playoffs) and Richard Jefferson (42.3 percent) attempted zero threes between them. Kevin Love attempted two (he made one).
15 - The Cavaliers finished with 15 assists in Game 4. That's not the worst assist total they've had all playoffs, only because they've had two other 15-assist games. They lost all three of those games. Gone are the days from the distant past (read: two weeks ago) when the Cavs would whip the ball around the perimeter, drive and kick, move the ball from side-to-side, and use dribble hand-offs and fast-paced motion to create open threes for the likes of Love, Smith, Frye, and Jefferson. Never mind that they've won every game in the playoffs in which they earned 23 or more assists.
6:37 - The Cleveland Cavaliers went 6 minutes and 37 seconds without a field goal in the fourth quarter. During that span, they went from up two points to down nine points. I can't even wrap my tiny, woefully inadequate brain around that. The Cavaliers were winning in the fourth quarter of this game! Despite not playing well! Then their offense mutilated itself — not really running any discernible action whatsoever, and generally waiting until there were 10 seconds left on the shot clock to do anything. It didn't work. Irving and James both had statistically decent games. But they combined to tank the offense together during this stretch, instead of fostering the fast-paced, rapid-fire ball movement the Cavs have dominated with all playoffs. The Cavs were one competent offensive stretch away from tying the series, but instead ran the blandest, laziest, most uninspired, least imaginative offense possible.
But I'm OK with this! [Douses self in gasoline. Lights self on fire.] No, really, I'm handling this quite well. Can't win 'em all! [Calmly sips drink. Upends rest of gasoline canister on head.] This is just fine. [Arm falls off.]
34 - Kyrie Irving finished with 34 points on 14-of-28 shooting. It was a solid offensive performance, and poor defensive performance. Though Irving scored a lot, he and James did a lame job of shepherding the offense (four points total outside of Love). Irving walked the ball up the court way too much, and he and James spent the majority of the shot clock twiddling their thumbs until it was time to force a bad shot. I will never complain about an Irving shot from penetrating the lane. I will complain about an off-dribble contested three, of which there were a few in Game 4. But there was a cool behind-the-back crossover.
25, 13, 9 - LeBron James finished with a near-miss triple-double. He also had seven turnovers. He'll shoulder the majority of the blame for the loss, because that's how this stuff works. James' Game 4 was better than all of Steph Curry's individual games until Friday night, something everyone will forget if the Warriors win the series. But James didn't play great, and didn't set a good offensive tone. He's overworking his advantageous post matchups, when the Warriors know how to shade and pseudo-double him while largely remaining at home. It bogs the offense down — and the Warriors bait him into playing that way. He's needed to adjust his offensive style against the Warriors to keep the movement-centric offense swirling. But he hasn't.
33 of 38 - James and Irving attempted 33 of the Cavs' 38 field goals in the second half.
45 & 43 - LeBron James played over 45 minutes in Game 4, and Kyrie Irving over 43. I know this is the playoffs blah blah best players something something all out there!, but you can't help but think some of the bad offense was a result of fatigue on part of James and Irving. Both of them played the entire second half. I just don't know if that's the best way to do it. Maybe it is. But Curry and Thompson both played under 40 minutes (Draymond Green and J.R. Smith played more than 40 minutes, in addition to James and Irving).
11 - In the grand "Kevin Love off the bench" experiment, he scored 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting with five rebounds. He played fine. Despite his physical presence in all the Cavs' losses, it wasn't Love's fault they lost on Friday. Actually, I thought he played decent defense all night, and did a good job showing on Curry in pick-and-roll situations. He missed a few box-outs in the second half that were costly, particularly on Anderson Varejao. Love probably needed more shots, given how the offense tanked in the second half. I expect he'll start in Game 5.
10 & 5, 0 & 2 - Tristan Thompson was incredible in the first half, with 10 points and five rebounds (all offensive). Thompson was credible in the second half, with zero points and two rebounds. I preferred the first half.
11 - The Cavaliers missed 11 free throws (15-of-26). They lost by 11 points.
4 - LeBron James attempted four free throws, despite taking 13 shot attempts within five feet of the hoop. He even made nine of those field goal attempts. See, that's the thing. It's what doesn't show up in the box score that hurts the Cavs with James' lack of free throw justice — he's more willing to pass the ball in the paint, because he simply has no faith that he'll get a call. LeBron James attempted four throws all game. LeBron James attempted as many free throws in the game as Draymond Green did in the first four minutes. Repeat, LEBRON JAMES ATTEMPTED AS MANY FREE THROWS IN THE GAME AS DRAYMOND GREEN DID IN THE FIRST FOUR MINUTES.
I won't fault James, but he needs to stop even trying to avoid contact, and start going into the bodies of defenders with his shoulder instead of around them (a serious suggestion), and flailing more to get to the line (a semi-serious suggestion). He also needs to start relying on his midrange jumper (read: NOT long-range) jumper as long as it's open season on his arms when he's in the paint. I'm excited to see how this chart looks after the Finals (current through Game 1).
3 - The Cavaliers are down 3-1, and need a miracle to win the next three games and a championship with it. We also have nearly three full days until Game 5 in Oakland. Let the self-loathing and finger-pointing begin! Game 4 gave us this, so don't let anyone ever tell you it wasn't worth it.