Technically, Game 4 is not a must-win for the Cavs. If they go down 3-1, they certainly still could win three games in a row. But that's not a position they want to be in. LeBron James has won in the playoffs after being down before, but he's never actually come back from a 3-1 hole. So Game 4 is big.
What: Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 4 (Chicago leads 2-1)
Where: United Center, Chicago, Illinois
When: Sunday, 3:30 pm
As devastating as the Game 3 loss was, it will mostly be forgotten if the Cavs win Game 4. Before the series began, knowing J.R. Smith was going to miss the first two games, I think most fans would have been fine with a 2-2 split through the first four games. That would make for a best of three, with two of the three remaining games at the Q. That's exactly the position the Cavs have a chance to put themselves in.
The Cavs need to continue making threes. In his return to the lineup, Smith hit four threes in eight attempts, including the one that tied the game with three seconds left. As a team, the Cavs went 14-of-34 from deep, after making just 19 threes in the first two games combined. It's been really hard for them to penetrate Chicago's defense, so they need to be able to hit shots from the outside.
Despite Tristan Thompson's effort, the Cavs got worked on the glass in Game 3. Thompson grabbed 13 boards, but the Bulls outrebounded the Cavs 54-39. They had 18 on the offensive end, compared to the Cavs' nine. In a series with a lot of missed shots, rebounding is going to matter. The Cavs were much better in the first two games, and they need to get back to that in Game 4.
LeBron has to play better. There's just no way around this. With Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving apparently playing hurt, the best basketball player in the world has to play like the best basketball player in the world, or at least close to it. So far in this series, he's shooting under 40 percent from the field and he's 1-of-12 from behind the three-point line. It would be great if he could find his jumper for Game 4, but if he doesn't, he has to at least stop turning the ball over. He's averaging five turnovers per game in the playoffs.
I've always felt that despite all the MVP awards and the two titles, LeBron still had something to prove this season. He faced a lot of criticism when the Cavs got off to a slow start, and he'll face a lot more if they fizzle out in the second round of the playoffs. It doesn't matter that Love is hurt. There are no excuses for the chosen ones.
So, what's my prediction? With his back against the wall, LeBron will have a great game and the Cavs will win. I'll say 103-97. Then things will get really interesting.
But if I'm wrong, a long summer and a few hard questions will suddenly be staring this Cavs team directly in the face.