Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers (even, 206.5 o/u)
For the Cleveland Cavaliers (12-4, 7-0 Home), Wednesday’s Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors (14-5, 3-4 Road) is pretty close to a do-or-die. If the result of Game 1, a 15-point loss, wasn’t enough to create a bit of trepidation in Cleveland, there are certainly some Cavaliers jerseys going back into the closet after Sunday’s 33-point blowout.
After Game 1, many found it hard to criticise LeBron James for Cleveland’s struggles as he shot nearly 43-percent from the field and just missed out on a triple-double. However, after committing seven of the Cavaliers’ 17 turnovers in Game 2, and going one for five from behind the arc, there is no way “King” James’ monarchy is escaping criticism leading up to Game 3.
Golden State is known as a fast-paced, offensive juggernaut. Yet, it has been their defense that has been, arguably, most impressive in the finals thus far. Coming into this series, the Cavaliers’ offense was firing on all cylinders; they were shooting 47.5-percent from the field, including 43.4-percent from three-point land. In two games against the Warriors, Cleveland’s offense has been completely stymied, averaging just 83 points per game on 36.8-percent shooting from the field, including 27.3-percent from behind the arc.
It seems head coach Tyronn Lue just does not have a lineup that can match anything Golden State puts on the floor. Quite shockingly, Channing Frye, who torched the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, has played a measly 11 minutes over the first two games. Lue has pointed to matchups as the reason behind that stat, but the matchups he’s using aren’t faring any better. Outside of LeBron James, you can make the argument that Richard Jefferson has been the team’s most productive player, which is rather worrisome.
Now moving into Game 3, potentially without Kevin Love (concussion, or should I just say “upper body injury”), the Cavaliers need James more than ever. Many are calling for LeBron to be more “selfish;” but “aggressive” is a better term to use. Regardless of who is guarding James – whether it be Andre Iguodala, last year’s finals MVP, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, or Harrison Barnes – the two-time champion needs to get to the basket (and not kick it out) in order for Cleveland to get themselves back into this series. Too often in Game 2, we watched James get into the paint just to dish the ball off, which accounted for a good number of his turnovers. There is a fine line between being “selfish” and being “aggressive,” and LeBron has to begin flirting with that line like a 16-year-old male flirts with a new female classmate.
Even if LeBron is on point in Game 4, though, it might not be enough. Alarmingly for the Cavaliers, the Warriors’ leading scorers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, combined for just 55 points in the first two games, well-shy of the 52.2 per game they averaged during the regular season. The pair hasn’t played poorly, but the team hasn’t needed them to take over. The fact that Golden State has been able to win two games on the backs of Shaun Livingston and Draymond Green is not a good sign for the Cleveland faithful.
After being dismantled in Game 2, the Cavaliers head back to Cleveland praying that their perfect home record in these playoffs stays intact. Cleveland is averaging 111.3 points per game at Quicken Loans Arena (compared to 98.2 on the road) and shooting almost 50-percent from the field, albeit against much weaker Eastern Conference foes.
Conversely, the Warriors have not had much playoff success on the road this year. On top of their poor 3-4 record, they have failed to reach triple-digits twice and have a field-goal percentage that’s nearly four points lower than at home. But don’t read too much into those numbers. A couple of those games were played without Steph Curry and the team is playing at a much higher level now than they were at the outset of the postseason. By no means will Cleveland have an easy defense of home-court.
I have no doubt that Cleveland will put forth a much better effort than we have seen in the first two games, but Golden State’s depth is too much for the Cavaliers to handle, regardless of the crowd they’re playing in front of. In a pick’em game, ride the Warriors to take a commanding 3-0 lead and essentially put this series to bed.
Pick: Warriors (even)
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (Stephen Curry) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)