9:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Warriors -5.5, Over/Under: 217.5
They say familiarity breeds contempt, and after game Two of the 2018 NBA Finals there is indeed no love lost between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the venue shifts to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio for Game Three. As was the case in each of the previous two Finals, the Warriors (58-24, 2nd in Western Conference) began the Series by holding serve on their homecourt, with an opportunity to take a commanding 3-0 lead before Friday’s Game Four. After a controversial 124-114 Overtime Victory in Game One, Steve Kerr’s charges put their collective foot on the gas in Sunday’s 122-103 triumph, which featured many of the hallmarks of their success over these past four years. First and foremost, the Hosts were otherworldly on the offensive end of the floor, shooting a blistering 57.3% from the Field, including a staggering 15-of-36 from beyond the Arc (41.7%), all the while exhibiting excellent Ball-Movement with Twenty-Eight Assists on Forty-Seven Field Goals. With the Visiting Side keeping things relatively close (particularly after the Third Quarter), Golden State exploded in the final frame, outscoring Cleveland 32-23 to seal a rather comfortable win. At 93.4 Possessions, the contest was played at much higher pace than it’s predecessor (89.5), which is where this team absolutely thrives. As was the case in Game One, the triumvirate of Kevin Durant (26.4 PTS, 51.6% FG, 41.9% 3FG, 6.8 REB, 5.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.8 BLK, 26.0 PER), Steph Curry (26.4 PTS, 49.5% FG, 42.3% 3FG, 5.1 REB, 6.1 AST, 1.6 STL, 28.2 PER), and Klay Thompson (20.0 PTS, 48.8% FG, 44.0% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 2.5 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK, 16.1 PER) led the way with a combined Seventy-Nine Points on 29-of-53 Shooting from the Floor (54.7%), including 14-of-28 from Downtown (50.0%). With Thompson (20 PTS) showing little effects of a nagging High Ankle Sprain that had initially placed his availability in doubt, it was Curry (33 PTS, 7 REB, 8 AST) who grabbed hold of the spotlight, knocking down an NBA Finals-Record Nine 3-Pointers (9-of-17 3FG), with many of those daggers mercilessly silencing a number Cavalier rallies, including what was arguably the Shot of the Playoffs; with 7:54 left in the Fourth Quarter, the 2-Time MVP dribbled the ball as if it was on a string, and in fading away a number of feet from beyond the Arc, launched a bonafide moonshot over the outstretched arm of the Cavs’ Kevin Love as the ball fell softly through the net to the raucous ORACLE Arena crowd’s delight. Curry’s heroics aside, credit must go to Kerr and his Staff for making a wealth of adjustments after a Game One in which he openly admitted they fortunate to come away with. Without the services of veteran Defensive Stopper Andre Iguodala (6.0 PTS, 46.3% FG, 28.2% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 3.3 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.6 BLK, 11.2 PER), who missed his seventh consecutive game with a bruised knee, the Warriors did a far better job in defending LeBron James (who we’ll get into in just a bit), with Draymond Green (11.0 PTS, 45.4% FG, 30.1% 3FG, 7.6 REB, 7.3 AST, 1.4 STL, 1.3 BLK, 16.1 PER) and even the aforementioned Durant shadowing for much longer stretches of the affair. He also replaced the struggling Kevon Looney (4.0 PTS, 58.0% FG, 3.3 REB, 0.6 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.8 BLK, 14.8 PER) with JaVale McGee (4.8 PTS, 62.1% FG, 2.6 REB, 0.5 AST, 0.3 STL, 0.9 BLK, 22.3 PER) in the Starting Lineup, which paid off handsomely, as the latter made all Six of his Attempts from the Field, scoring Twelve Points in his first career NBA Finals Start. They also sought to establish things early, knocking down i’s first Seven Shots, and 10-of-11 Overall. With that said, they found the majority of their early success in getting to the Rim, shooting a stellar 13-of-15 from inside the Arc in the First Quarter, netted 59.5% of their Field Goal Attempts despite making jus 6-of-19 Threes in the First Half.
Meanwhile, unfortunately for the Cavaliers (50-32, 4th in Eastern Conference), returning home to Quicken Loans Arena in a 2-Game Hole has become a familiar situation in the NBA Finals. In the four years that they’ve matched up with the Warriors on the game’s greatest stage, Cleveland has fallen behind 0-2 in each of the last Two Finals, and in last year’s case ended up losing Game Three as well, before salvaging some form of respect in it’s successor. It was anyone’s guess as to how Tyronn Lue’s charges would approach Sunday’s affair in Oakland, particularly after the heartbreaking/debilitating/controversial (insert adjective here) events of Game One, that left the Visiting Side (and the entre city of Cleveland) feeling robbed of a golden opportunity to steal the Series Opener on the road. How would LeBron James (27.5 PTS, 54.2% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 8.6 REB, 9.1 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.9 BLK, 28.6 PER) respond after posting a what was only the sixth 50-Point Game in NBA Finals History? What Gameplan would Lue and his Staff draw up after employing a largely successful one that frustrated the reigning Champions throughout Game One? What could we expect out of J.R. Smith (8.3 PTS, 40.3% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 2.9 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.9 BLK, 8.5 PER) after committing one of the worst gaffes in Sports History? Well, none of the questions can be answered in a very positive light… First and foremost, in regards to James, who has been in bonefide GOD MODE throughout these Playoffs, the 4-Time MVP was once again sensational in scoring Twenty-Nine Points on 10-of-20 Shooting from the Field (50.0%), along with Nine Rebounds and Thirteen Assists, but it simply wasn’t enough to carry his side to victory on Sunday Night. As a team, the Cavs shot a poor 41.1% from the Floor, including 9-of-27 from Downtown (33.3%), despite assisting on Twenty-Five of their Thirty-Seven Field Goals. They were able to keep things close primarily by getting to the Charity Stripe, where they calmly netted 20-of-26 Attempts (76.9%), granting them a Plus-7 advantage in that department, but at the end of the day, they simply couldn’t overcome their opponent’s cavalcade of 3-Pointers. If there is one statistic that Lue & Co. must overturn in these next few games in Cleveland, it’s the disparity in 3-Point Shooting, for his team is getting absolutely worked here, folks; the Cavaliers were outscored by Eighteen Points from Long-Range in Game Two, and thus far through the Finals are looking at a Minus-27-Point difference, while shooting a miserable 29.7% to boot. For a team that has surrounded James with so many Specialists, many of which primarily shooters (as in, that is their ONE job), it’s got to be nauseating for Cavs’ Fans to see them shoot so poorly; the likes of Kevin Love (17.6 PTS, 45.8% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 9.3 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.4 BLK, 22.4 PER), George Hill (9.4 PTS, 44.4% FG, 35.1% 3FG, 2.7 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.6 BLK, 12.2 PER), Kyle Korver (9.2 PTS, 45.9% FG, 43.6% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.4 STL, 0.4 BLK, 13.4 PER), and the aforementioned Smith (whom Warriors’ Fan were sarcastically chanting “MVP” to when shooting early Free-Throws) have managed to make just 13-of-40 Attempts (32.5%), which isn’t enough when many of those names aren’t contributing in other areas. So much has been made about LeBron’s Supporting Cast, but on this stage they’ve quiet frankly never looked smaller. We’ve said on many occasions in this column that Role Players typically play much better at home in the Playoffs than on the road, and for the most part that has been true for Cleveland in this Postseason; the Cavaliers are 8-1 at Quicken Loans Arena in the 2018 Playoffs, in comparison to 4-7 everywhere else.