Cavaliers redeem themselves with a 30-point win

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images   Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images /

The NBA playoffs are here. The games are tighter, the lights are brighter, and the narratives are getting thick. It can be a lot to keep up with but don’t worry we’re here to help. Throughout the NBA postseason, FanSided will be gathering together some of the most talented writers from our network for a daily recap of our favorite stories from the night before.

Welcome to The Rotation.

Garbage time All-Stars

Ian Levy | @HickoryHigh | FanSided

If you like garbage time, the NBA Finals have been an incredible treat. Mo Williams has already played 15 minutes in the series for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ian Clark has played 16 for the Golden State Warriors. All three games have been decided by double-digits and the last two — a Game 2 win for the Warriors and a Game 3 win for the Cavaliers — have featured final margins greater than 30 points.

The Cavaliers were presumed dead and mostly buried after losing the first two games of the Finals by the largest combined margin ever. Their 30-point win in Game 3 was a wild haymaker that sent the Warriors staggering and kept Cleveland’s title hopes alive. It was a startling turnaround for LeBron James and company, and seeing these two teams trade enormous blowouts is nothing short of bizarre.

The fourth quarters of this series have become a formality, a chance for Dahntay Jones and Brandon Rush to stretch their legs and break a sweat. According to Inpredictable, 49 minutes and 34 seconds of this series have been played with one of the two teams having an in-game win probability of greater than 90 percent. That’s 34 percent of the total minutes played, and more than the length of a full game. Zoom in on just the fourth quarters and 97 percent (all but 69 seconds), have been played with one team having a 90 percent or greater win probability.

Momentum, I suppose, now resides in Cleveland; a 30-point win will do that. But given the rapid swings from victory to crushing defeat, that hold seems tenuous at best. Is a little crunch time too much to ask?

Finally, Kyrie Irving didn’t stink

Wes Goldberg | @wcgoldberg | Hardwood Paroxysm, All U Can Heat

Hey remember in last year’s NBA Finals when everyone was saying things like “LeBron James doesn’t have enough help” and afterwards when people were all like “the Cavs were injured” and “they were missing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and still had a 2-1 lead over the Warriors at one point”?

Well, that didn’t really change even with Irving and Love back for the first two games (blowouts) of this year’s Finals. Those games were in Oakland, where the Warriors play. Irving scored 36 points on 36 shots in those first two games. He also had six turnovers and five assists. In other words, he was terrible.

Then the Cavaliers went back to Cleveland, where they play, and Irving played way better. Twelve-of-25 for 30 points, including three three-pointers, eight assists, four rebounds, and just two turnovers in the Cavs’ Game 3 win against the Warriors.

Does it matter that the Cavaliers were at home? In some way, yeah. As they say, role players perform better at home. But, wait! Irving isn’t a role player! Right? Except that in some ways he is. He’s a factor on just one side of the court, where his job is to (a) shoot and make three-pointers and (b) run the offense when LeBron needs a break.

However, you think of Irving and his limitations contributing with what he does well is enormously important for the Cavaliers. With LeBron on your team, you’re always going to Tetris your game around his many building blocks. Last night, Irving was an “l” arriving at the moment of desperation and dropping perfectly into place to disappear four rows all at once.

The Splash Brothers’ drought continues

Gerald Bourguet | @GeraldBourguet | HoopsHabit

Through the first two games of the 2016 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors didn’t really need the Splash Brothers. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were great in spots, but all they really did was supply the final nails after bench-heavy lineups built the coffin and prepared the Cavaliers for last rites.

The Warriors’ defense and depth had done all the work, while their two best scorers pretty much just showed up to finish the job.

In Game 3, Cleveland brought its A-game for the first time all series, and without the Warriors’ home crowd or vanishing acts from Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith, the ongoing drought from the Splash Brothers left everyone’s mouths feeling extra dry.

Through the first three games of these Finals, neither Curry nor Thompson has cracked 20 points once — a stat that becomes even more unacceptable when you consider how dangerous Curry (30.1 PPG) and Thompson (22.1 PPG) were during the regular season.

After Game 1, it was easy to write off their 8-of-27 shooting performance and their 20-point outing — their lowest combined output of the entire season — because the Dubs held a 45-10 advantage in bench points and won by 15. The Cavs had seemingly missed their golden opportunity.

After Game 2, it was even easier to ignore how the Splash Brothers combined for just 35 points. They both shot efficiently from the floor (13-for-24), found their rhythm from three-point range (8-for-16) and if not for foul trouble and how quickly the game got out of hand, they would’ve posted the gaudy numbers we’re accustomed to seeing from the league’s best backcourt.

After Game 3, however, we can no longer ignore an unsettling truth. The Splash Brothers are one more underwhelming performance away from the whole momentum of this series shifting in Cleveland’s favor.

The Dubs won the first two games by a combined 48 points — the largest point differential in Finals history through the first two games — and we’re still only one resurgent Game 4 away from the Warriors closing this thing out in a gentleman’s sweep. Hell, even if the Dubs drop Game 4 as well, the Cavs haven’t proven they can win at Oracle Arena.

But with Curry (19 points, six turnovers, four fouls) and Thompson (10 points, 4-of-13 shooting) again failing to answer our cries and rain dances, this ongoing drought is starting to become a concern for the Warriors’ prospects of harvesting another championship.

Are we going to see drastic progression to the mean with a torrential downpour in Game 4? Or are the Splash Brothers just going to continue to feed this notion that they underwhelm in the championship series? It hasn’t taken long for all that fertilizer to be branded as nothing but a worthless, steaming pile of cow dung (figuratively speaking).

Of course, Cleveland’s defense deserves credit for the Splash Brothers’ struggles. Irving was mostly locked in defensively in Game 3, the Cavs continue to bump and push and hold and harass Curry off the ball to make his life hell, and Cleveland’s bigs did a great job trapping the league MVP out of pick-and-rolls to bother him with length and double teams.

But for the overwhelming majority of this 2015-16 season, Curry wasn’t bothered by length, double teams, physical play or really anything else defenses threw at him. He didn’t build his reputation as the league’s most unguardable player by chance, and the Splash Brothers’ shot selection never felt so rushed by their own volition.

Through the first three games, Curry and Thompson are a combined 9-for-24 (37.5 percent) on three-pointers that classifies as “open” (nearest defender 4-6 feet away) and 3-for-8 (37.5 percent) on threes classified as “wide open” (nearest defender 6+ feet away).

During the regular season, the Splash Brothers shot 46.4 percent and 45.9 percent on such three-point attempts, respectively. Right now, the open shots, and even the “good” shots that wouldn’t be good looks for anyone but the Splash Brothers, just aren’t falling.

Heading into Game 4, the narratives are only going to get louder, especially since it feels like it’s been far too long since we got to enjoy an MVP-caliber performance from Curry.

For a Warriors team that didn’t lose back-to-back games until the Conference Finals and has prided itself on turning outside criticism into moisture for their thunderstorms, Friday’s game represents a chance for the Splash Brothers to drown Cleveland in a flash flood…or risk allowing the championship crops they’ve been cultivating all season to wither away.

For more NBA Finals coverage, check out our NBA Finals hub page.