Before we jump into the fun stuff, it's worth noting that the Warriors have lost every single Game 3 of their playoff run in 2016. Just because the Cavaliers team punched the Warriors in the mouth doesn't mean they're going to fold. This is a resilient and talented bunch capable of making their own adjustments. That said, this one was fun for Cavaliers supporters.
Despite missing Kevin Love, who was forced to sit with a concussion, the Cavaliers offense finally found itself in high gear.
The Cavaliers starting backcourt found its rhythm, finally. Kyrie Irving was in the midst of the "maybe he's not that good" treatment from social media and responded with perhaps the best individual quarter from any Cav so far in the playoffs in the first. He dropped 16 points, was finally pulling from three-point range instead of pump faking and pulling from midrange. Irving finished with 30 on the game, and controlled the game from start to finish.
J.R. Smith, the other thus-far maligned member of the Cavaliers starting backcourt finally shook loose and was able to get up ten threes while making five. The volume's important for Smith. He's not the same impactful, fire-breathing option that he can be if he's being held to a low number of shot attempts.
The Cavaliers in general did a significantly better job running off-ball action to generate good looks. There were back screens all over the place, and the horns set that led to one of the two screeners slipping towards the hoop seemed to destabilize the Warriors defense.
Destabilize is an important word there. The Warriors defense never left its shell in Games 1 and 2. They pretty much switched, and stayed set as any given Cavalier either posted up or isolated, with no action on the weak side. When the Cavaliers can make the Dubs defense scramble, options open up for the role players who had been almost entirely silenced in Golden State.
LeBron James seemed to initiate the offense a bit more from the perimeter to positive effect, and had a monster game after an early second quarter lull. James finished with 32 points on 14-26 shooting from the field. It's always going to be a tough matchup for James, but he finished at the rim beautifully and finally hit a few jumpers.
Tristan Thompson had an insane game, finishing with 14 points and 13 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass. He helped keep the Cavaliers alive during offensive dips and helped anchor an incredibly solid Cavaliers defense.
The defense, of course was a big story as well. The layup line and three-point target practice came to an end, and while it's going to be the impulse of some to attribute that defensive burst to Kevin Love's absence, and that may be true to some extent, but it goes beyond that. Every single Cavalier was so active on the defensive end. They didn't allow ball handlers to beat them one on one, they closed out hard and constantly had their hands in passing lanes.
LeBron specifically was unbelievably aggressive attacking the pass out of a trap, and he's one of the few players that can play free safety like that and not get burned most of the time. Stephen Curry finished with 19 points, but he had a pretty brutal game on balance. The Cavaliers trapping really got to him, and LeBron attacking his release valve passes worked to great effect.
In my recap of Game 2, I mentioned that despite the rightfully-earned negative feelings, we'd all feel a lot different about this series if the Cavaliers went out and won Game 3. They did that with gusto. If they can take Game 4, which tips at 9 PM EST on Friday, we'll really have a series on our hands.