After last night’s Game 3 loss, LeBron James said he knew his LeBron James team would be facing “a juggernaut” in the Finals. “It’s probably the most … firepower I’ve played in my career,” James said. “I played against some great teams, but I don’t think no team has had this type of firepower.”
Any talk of “firepower” obviously refers to Kevin Durant’s three-point dagger with about a minute left in the game. For pundits, critics and trolls, however, “firepower” alludes to the Warriors’ perceived unfair advantage gained through signing Durant in the first place … as if LeBron James didn’t take his talents to South Beach to add some firepower to the Dwyane Wade- and Chris Bosh-era Miami Heat. As if Shaquille O’Neal did not join Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles for the same reason. As if this has not been happening throughout the history of team sports.
But the major point that gets missed here is that “firepower” is only a small piece of why the Warriors came up victorious, despite James and Kyrie Irving playing their hearts out, combining for 77 points. For two players to put up 77 points — what many entire teams finish with on an average night during the regular season — something else is going on.
That “something” takes place at the other end of the floor. For starters, Durant was only able to put up that beautiful clutch three-pointer because he’d snatched a defensive rebound at the other end.
In 2015, when James was refusing to re-sign with the Cavs until a deal was in place to secure Tristan Thompson’s future with the team, surely he did not envision what would go down just two years later. Sure, T. Thompson came up big in the 2016 NBA Finals. His defensive prowess helped to rebound Cleveland to its first major professional sports championship.
But, this postseason?
T. Thompson has been abysmal on the boards. Numbers don’t lie and, for many, these Game 3 stats may come as a shocker:
26 points / 13 rebounds / 6 assists / 0 blocks / 2 steals / 1 turnover / +11 in plus/minus
0 points / 3 rebounds / 2 assists / 2 blocks / 0 steals / 1 turnover / -6 in plus/minus
Curry was the only Golden State player with double-digit rebounds and his 13 boards tied Kevin Love’s for a game high. Both players bested James, who had 11. (For James, who has a noted history of demanding personnel moves, maybe this is a case of be careful what you wish for, and a great time to reassess priorities? T. Thompson clearly has not earned his keep.)
D gets it done
For Golden State, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are the names that usually fall into sentences alongside terms such as “defensive grit” and “grind.” Iguodala’s 2015 NBA Finals MVP honors cemented his reputation as a player who can do the heavy lifting on both ends of the floor … off the bench, no less.
Green, however, was edged out of Defensive Player of the Year awards by San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard in 2015 and 2016. Yes, Leonard is a defensive beast. But in the eyes of many, he’s also a quieter, more likeable guy. Considering that the Warriors have made it to the Finals the last three years (and the Spurs did not), and that Golden State won the 2015 NBA Championship (and the Spurs did not), and the Warriors are currently on a history-making postseason run in 2017 (and the Spurs are not), it is clear which player’s defensive skills have packed the biggest punch for his team. (Hint: His name does not start with the letter K.)
Once Durant was brought into the fold, however, it became apparent very quickly that his defensive contributions — significant and timely blocks, rebounds, and steals — were often more impactful than his offensive work. Stop and think about this for a second: Durant is a four-time NBA scoring champion and one of the best shooters to ever play the game.
Yet, the Warriors’ unyielding defensive moxie is repeatedly overlooked by smaller minds hellbent on labeling them a perimeter team incapable of doing anything under the basket. Or, worse, outright disrespecting the team for its style of play.
A lot of the disparagement has to do with Curry being the face of the team but not looking like a “traditional” NBA player. Some of it has to do with his skin color and upbringing, according to Green. But there is also the issue of his stature, which got him labeled “undersized” in pre-draft scouting reports. It is a term that stuck and caused people to assume him to be a player limited to a particular skill set.
But the way Curry has dominated the league in recent years — carrying his team to greatness while also adding his name to the NBA history books year after year — should be enough to teach people not to underestimate this man. His play should have long ago shattered these misconceptions. Since that clearly is not the case, let’s look at some additional stats from Game 3:
Stephen Curry: 6’3”, 190 pounds, 13 rebounds.
Tristan Thompson: 6’9”, 238 pounds, 3 rebounds.
Anyone who refers to Curry as a perimeter player or “offensive guy” after Game 3 should be deemed willfully ignorant and banned from sports dialogue. For those who need a little more to go on, here’s how the Warriors won, including the many ways Curry contributed on defense.
Q1: The Warriors started the contest with too many turnovers — five, in the first six minutes of play — thanks to better ball movement and execution by the Cavs. Yet, amidst the solid play by Cleveland, Curry pulled down his own rebound in early minutes that resulted in a Durant three, and he also grabbed some steals. Second-chance scoring opportunities through defense was the name of Curry’s Q1 game. But he also lit it up from deep, making 9-of-13 from beyond the arc.
As expected in a lopsided series, the refs tried to keep Cleveland in the game with questionable foul calls, including a charge by LeBron James that was called as a blocking foul on Draymond Green. But, no worries — Klay Thompson got going in the first quarter, tallying 16 points in seven minutes.
Meanwhile, James — “hurt” by an elbow from T. Thompson — stayed down for several minutes in what appeared to be an attempt to kill the Warriors’ momentum. The ploy didn’t work. Golden State finished the quarter on top.
Q1 score: 39-32 — GSW.
Q2: Sharing the ball was the name of every Golden State player’s game in the second quarter. “They all like to pass,” Kerr said, prior to the start of Q2. “They all like to move the ball.” And, boy, did they ever — but not before a personal foul on Green led to a Kyle Korver dunk (yes, you read that right).
But Golden State shook off that nonsense and kept going, with K. Thompson driving to the basket for two and Green racking up six assists with 9:57 left in the half. One of those assists led to a field-goal by Durant and a point at the line.
Down 2-0 for the series, Cleveland was not about to go quietly. By this point, James had put in 21 points in 12 minutes of play.
But David West answered a James bucket with a layup of his own, and K. Thompson utterly clobbered T. Thompson on D, leading to a Curry three. A few plays later, Curry snatched a monster steal that led to points. With 3:25 left in the half, Curry snatched yet another rebound that resulted in a dunk by Durant on the fast break.
[Redacted: Tirade about bad officiating and the tendency for refs to “correct” a bad call by calling another bad foul on the other end. This episode of Bad Call, Correct with Another Bad Call starred Green, Richard Jefferson and Durant.]
But the following tidbit about the refereeing cannot be relegated to a parenthetical statement: LeBron James picked up his first foul of the night with 1:32 left in the half. Uh huh.
The Warriors, including Green (up to this point), were not giving any attention to the refs. Instead, they just kept piling in shots. K. Thompson and Curry both chipped in another three-point shot apiece, leading to 12 threes by the Warriors in the first half. (Later in the game, however, Green would get T’d up for complaining to the refs about a call.)
Although the Warriors would end the half on top, the team did not end the quarter on a high note, thanks to a Zaza Pachulia moving screen that returned the ball to Cleveland, resulting in an Irving layup at the buzzer. Irving’s drive to the basket gave Cleveland a one-point advantage for the second quarter (28-29). Worry not that Irving traveled to the Adirondacks to get to the basket on that final play, and a violation wasn’t called. The Warriors still had six-point advantage for the game.
Halftime score: 67-61 — GSW.
Q3: Ah, the arrival of the third quarter, more often referred to as Curry Flurry time. But … Golden State got off to a sloppy second-half start due to another moving screen by Pachulia and Green picking up his fourth foul. Meanwhile, the Cavs were not backing down, with Irving continuing to play out of his mind and Love hitting a clutch three-pointer to give Cleveland its first lead of the night.
In a pissed-off, fired-up mode as we’ve never witnessed before, Curry’s baby face transformed into something more monstrous and he got gritty with it — driving to the basket for a layup, and-one. Then, JaVale McGee said, “Don’t forget about me!” — right before he got the ball to Green for a slam, which tied the game 74-all.
In keeping with his monstrous ways, Curry knocked down a shot from deep that silenced the crowd.
From here on, it was a battle of wills, which included a hard foul by T. Thompson on Green that could have resulted in injury — but the refs called a loose-ball foul. Green won the jump ball with a tip to McGee, who attempted a dunk that did not go down. But, no worries! McGee was fouled on the play, and his one made free-throw tied the game at 80-all.
Iguodala stepped up with a reminder of why he was named 2015 NBA Finals MVP with a rebound and tip-in on the follow. But the Cavaliers kept grinding, in large part due to an Irving Flurry. Cleveland won the the third quarter handily (33-22) and had the advantage heading into the fourth.
Q3 score: 89-94 — CLE.
Q4: With Curry and Durant on the bench to start the fourth, K. Thompson got into a groove with back-to-back slams — the second of which was a case of defense leading to offense. Early into the fourth, Irving and James had 35 points apiece for Cleveland and still showed no signs of backing down. At the same time, a little-known, undersized perimeter player for Golden State had tallied a double-double, with points and rebounds. Ouch.
With 6:10 left in the game, Durant nailed a long three to bring the Warriors to within two points. By the 4:40 mark, K. Thompson had tallied 30 points for the game.
James and J.R. Smith were both clutch down the stretch with shots and rebounds. A hustle play by Irving — a missed shot-rebound-shot combo — energized the crowd. But Love turned his ankle, leaving Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue no other choice but to sub him out for T. Thompson, whose play the entire game could only be described as disastrous.
And then things got interesting.
In the last 3:10 of the game, the Warriors went on a blistering 11-0 run, which included Durant’s aforementioned clutch three-pointer, stellar defense by K. Thompson that interrupted an Irving shot attempt leading to a Durant bucket and a trip to the line, and a pair of free-throws by Curry that kept him perfect at the line during the playoffs, with 33 made free-throws.
That final run stunned everyone: Cleveland crowd, players, media, and Warriors fans, alike. But the 11-0 run to get the victory and go up 3-0 on the series was simply stunning. Impressive. Unbelievable.
In winning this game, the Warriors pushed the Cavs to what has been, thus far, the point of no return. No team in NBA history has bounced back from down 3-0 to win the championship.
Final score: 118-113 — GSW.
Source: Tamryn Spruill| goldenstateofmind.com