After looking like they didn’t belong on the same court as the Golden State Warriors for the first two games of the 2016 NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers are one win away from tying up the series. They’ll host the defending champs on Friday night in Game 4, hoping to carry over the momentum they built in their 30-point Game 3 victory.
The Cavs were forced to make adjustments in Game 3, starting Richard Jefferson over Kevin Love, who still hadn’t been cleared to play from a concussion he suffered in Game 2. The results were immediate, with Cleveland jumping out to a 19-4 lead, never letting Golden State get closer than seven points over the rest of the game. Whether or not Love is allowed to play on Friday, the Cavs are expected to go with the same lineup that brought them so much success on Wednesday.
Love is expected to play and come off the bench, allowing Cleveland to utilize their five-man unit of Jefferson, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith that was so effective. The Cavs have been outscored by 16 points in the 58 minutes in which Love has been on the court this series, and head coach Tyronn Lue said he’s willing to make a tough lineup change if need be.
“They might not like it at the time, but I’ve always learned in this business if you tell the truth, guys understand and they know what the truth is,” Lue said, via Ohio.com. “They might be mad for a second, but they can always get back to understanding and realize that’s the right thing. And if you tell the truth, guys can respect that.”
The lineup change was reflected on both offense and defense, and the Cavs held the Warriors to just 90 points. Much like in Game 1, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson looked nothing like the NBA’s best backcourt, only this time, Golden State wasn’t able to overcome their struggles.
Curry’s Game 3 was particularly perplexing, as he didn’t score his first points until almost 20 minutes into the game. He was even worse in the series opener when he missed 11 of his 15 shot attempts, totaling just 11 points.
The MVP’s play has been unpredictable this postseason. He scored 69 points in his first two games back from a knee injury that forced him to miss four games, but he played so poorly in the first half of the Western Conference finals that it sparked speculation he wasn’t close to being healthy. Whatever the reason for his struggles, Cleveland is hoping that Curry continues to search for his rhythm in Game 4, unlike the 2015 finals, which saw him break out of a slump in Golden State’s Game 4 win.
Kyrie Irving had by far his best game of the series when the finals shifted to Cleveland, scoring 30 points and dishing out eight assists. J.R. Smith scored 12 more points in Game 3 than he did in the first two games combined.
Cleveland is a two-point favorite in Game 4, though Golden State is still a heavy favorite to win the series.
Start Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Online Stream: WatchESPN