The NBA Finals have taken a surprising turn. The Cleveland Cavaliers, on paper the underdogs, have seized control of the series after a 91-96 win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 3. Four words sum up their surprising success thus far. “Defense,” “LeBron,” “Defense,” oh and yes, “Dellavadova.” Despite missing two of their all-star players due to injury the Cavaliers have seemingly found a recipe for getting those wins, and that’s to play insanely intense defense out of their minds, non-stop. The void in the lineup left by Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving has been filled with defensive-minded players, and thanks to coach David Blatt’s guidance the team has been able to dictate the terms of how these games are being played. As expected, most of the responsibility of putting up points on the scoreboard have fallen squarely on the shoulders of LeBron James. So far the King has responded quite well, putting up 39 points in Game 2 and 40 points in Game 3. His supporting cast has somehow found a way to chip in just enough and at the right time to carry the team passed the Warriors. Timofey Mozgov was the second leading scorer for the Cavs in Games 1 and 2, but in this game it was Matthew Dellavadova who stepped up with 20 points.
Stephen Curry, who was invisible in Game 2, initially struggled but exploded in the fourth quarter almost carrying his team to a come-back win. He ended the night with 27 points, six rebounds and six assists. Coach Steve Kerr has to make some changes. Somewhere. Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes have been awful so far on the offensive end. Surprisingly though, David Lee, the once-forgotten Warriors forward, woke up in this game and delivered 11 points in just 13 minutes of action. In three games only Andre Iguodala has been able to guard LeBron man-to-man. Either Golden State starts double teaming James or tweak their defensive rotations to address his ability to take over the game at will.
James had an all-around excellent game. Aside from his 40 points, he also grabbed 12 rebounds, handed out eight assists, and recorded four steals and two blocks. The Warriors tried to send him to the free-throw line, but he converted 10-0f-12 shots from there, and it was his free-throw shooting in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter that was responsible for keeping the Warriors at bay. He shared the spotlight last night with Matthew Dellavadova. “Delly,” who has been mostly noted for his effective defense of Stephen Curry, showed what he was capable of on offense with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists.
At this stage, the Cavaliers are the team to beat. They have the drive, the defense, the formula. Pressure is now on the back-pedaling Warriors to come up with creative ways to play the game their way and make things happen.