It took an unexpected 30-point blowout victory, highlighted by incredible shooting, a complete domination of the offensive glass, and stout backcourt defense, but the Cleveland Cavaliers have not only climbed back into the NBA Finals they also stand as favorites over the Golden State Warriors for the first time heading into Friday night’s Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena.
Kyrie Irving exploded early, especially from long range, and finished with 30 points, LeBron James led all scorers with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists off 26 shots, and guard J.R. Smith played the third wheel quite well with Kevin Love out due to a concussion by firing off five three-pointers for 20 points as Cleveland claimed a 120-90 Game 3 win.
As a result, for the first time in the series Cleveland is favored in a game. Sportsbook.ag lists the Cavs as a 2-point favorite with a 4/5 money line and an over/under of 206.5 points.
Head coach Tyronn Lue’s improved game plan appeared to be the perfect amalgam of what many critics have been clamoring for following the first two games of the series. More James and Irving, sharper shooting from downtown, and more size upfront even if Warriors head coach Steve Kerr goes small.
Racing out to a 33-16 lead after the first period, the Cavs cut Golden State’s series lead in half to 2-1 by greatly limiting every facet of the defending champions’ offense and oddsmakers have taken notice.
The Warriors trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were stymied all game, combining for a mere 35 points and a poor 10 turnovers, while the previously mighty bench looked average at best behind Andre Iguodala’s 11 points.
In Love’s absence, veteran forward Richard Jefferson started his first game of the postseason and helped the Cavs in every way possible. He chipped in nine points and eight rebounds, including three offensive boards, helping forward Tristan Thompson and Cleveland win the rebounding battle 52-32 and 17-8 on the offensive glass.
Coming off two straight dominating victories, each marred by inconsistent play from Curry and Thompson, the Warriors were still viewed as massive favorites because of how well everyone else (especially the bench) has played.
And it could have to do with such a long, historic season taking an emotional toll up and down Golden State’s roster. Kerr even said after the game that Golden State just “didn’t show up” in Game 3.
But the Warriors, after suffering by far their worst loss of the entire season, will bounce back and Cleveland take Game 3 for granted.
Early Prediction: Golden State over Cleveland, 110-98