Without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, LeBron James has found an unlikely sidekick in the NBA Finals. Matthew Dellavedova provided the hustle and scoring the Cleveland Cavaliers needed to hold off the Golden State Warriors' furious fourth-quarter comeback to win Game 3, 96-91, on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavaliers lead the series, 2-1.
James was sensational once again, scoring 40 points on 14-34 shooting, while also grabbing 12 rebounds, to go along with eight assists, four steals and two blocks. High-scoring efforts have become routine for James, after a 44-point effort in Game 1 and a 39-point performance in Game 2. The Warriors rotated Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala on James, but he simply dominated the left side of the court, often scoring on isolations.
"This is a great moment and my teammates need me," James said. "It's my job to go out and lead those guys, teach those guys, yell at those guys and then come back and tell them it's OK, let's move to the next play."
While James' performance was special, Dellavedova was a crucial contributor. The Australian guard scored 20 points on 7-17 shooting, and none bigger than the driving shot in the lane with 2:27 remaining in the fourth quarter that he converted into a three-point play following a foul by Stephen Curry.
"[Dellavedova] made some timely buckets, and that was one of them," said Curry, who also added that he wasn't sure if he fouled Dellavedova on the play.
Dellavedova also made some crucial plays on defense, as the scrappy 24-year-old dove on the court and onto the sidelines for loose balls. He also contained Curry for long stretches.
It was an uneven game for Curry. The MVP guard seemed almost nonexistent for much of the first three quarters, but went on a hot streak in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points to lead the Warriors from 17 points down at the start of the fourth to a deficit of just one point with 2:45 remaining. Curry finished with 27 points on 10-20 shooting, and also had six assists, and six rebounds.
Struggling in the early minutes of a game has become a trend for the Warriors. In Game 3, the Warriors shot under 40 percent in the first quarter for the third consecutive game. They trailed 44-37 at the break, and showed little effort on the glass, as Cavs forward Tristan Thompson came up with some big plays down low. The third quarter added to the Warriors' woes, as the Cavs led by as many as 20 with 2:51 remaining. It was at that point that Curry heated up, but it simply wasn't enough.
"Whether I am making shots or not, I gotta stay vibrant," said Curry. "The team definitely feeds off my energy ... I got to find different ways to get us going. I like that challenge. This is going to be a hard-fought series. I got to have a huge part in it."
Game 4 is on Thursday in Cleveland.