The Golden State Warriors are slight favorites over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Finals, but Tuesday’s game could go either way. Both Game 1 and Game 2 were decided in overtime, something that’s never been done before, and both teams have question marks as they try to take a 2-1 series lead.
LeBron James and Stephen Curry entered the finals as, arguably, the best two players in the league. While James continues to build on his legacy as an all-time great, the Warriors are waiting for their star player to match his performance from the rest of the season.
But the Cavs will start four players other than James. It’s unknown how they’ll perform as they try to make up for the injuries suffered by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Below are three things to watch for in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
How does Curry respond?
Much of the talk following Game 2 was Curry’s poor performance and his inability to score against Matthew Dellavedova. Curry had his worst game of the season in Golden State’s most important contest to date, missing 18 of his 23 field-goals attempts, including an NBA Finals record 13 misses from three-point range.
Considering Curry hasn’t played that poorly all year, it should be interesting to see how he performs just two nights later. He made 51.5 percent of his shots in the Western Conference Finals, though he shot less than 40 percent in the final two games of that series. Dellavedova played good defense, but Curry believes that he just had an off night.
“I doubt this will happen again,” Curry told reporters after Game 2.
Curry played in 13 of Golden State’s regular-season losses, hitting 36 percent of his three-point attempts. He made 46 percent of his shots from behind the arc in the Warriors’ 67 wins. The MVP has shot less than 40 percent from the field in all four of Golden State’s postseason losses.
Who steps up for the Cavs?
James has been incredible in the series, and Cleveland has a good chance to win on Tuesday night if he puts up another triple-double. But he can’t beat the NBA’s top team on his own, and the Cavs needed overtime to win Game 2, even though James put up 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists.
Without Irving or Love in the lineup, the Cavs need a reliable No.2 scorer. J.R. Smith had been that player in the Eastern Conference Finals, but in Golden State he made just 30.8 percent of his shots. Iman Shumpert is four-of-17 from the field, and despite Dellavedova’s contributions on defense he has just nine points and six turnovers in the series.
The answer could come in the form of Timofey Mozgov, who’s had two of his best playoff games against the Warriors. Averaging 16.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and a 55.6 field-goal percentage, the center has helped Cleveland outscore Golden State by 14 points when he’s been on the floor.
It’s unknown how much playing time Mozgoz will receive. He was on the court for 29 minutes in Game 2, sitting out all of the fourth quarter and most of overtime.
How will the officials call the game?
Officiating played a major role down the stretch of Game 2, and it could have cost the Cavaliers the victory. The NBA admitted that it missed a few calls, including a foul by Andre Iguodala on James with 1:37 left in regulation, as well as a grab by Draymond Green on James during their jump ball later in the fourth quarter.
James missed a layup with two seconds left in regulation that would’ve given Cleveland the lead, and Green could have easily been called for a foul. If a similar situation occurs in Game 3, the Warriors might not be so lucky.
Quicken Loans Arena promises to be extremely loud on Tuesday night, as Cleveland hosts their first NBA Finals game in eight years and attempts to win their first ever NBA championship. The refs let a lot of contact go on Sunday night, especially on James, but it might be more difficult for them to swallow their whistles in Cleveland.