It's amazing how quickly the narratives turn sometimes during the NBA playoffs. After Game 2, in which the Cleveland Cavaliers were dismantled 110-77 to go down 2-0 in the series. Kyrie Irving was dead in the water, the Cavs had no answers for the Golden State Warriors defensively, and the Warriors were looking like they were going to sweep for their second straight title. Then, the series went back to Cleveland, the Cavs won 120-90, and suddenly we have a series. Kyrie Irving went for 30/4/8, LeBron James posted 32 points and looked to rediscover his jumper, and Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were held to a combined 35 points. It's 2-1, and things couldn't look more different than they did 24 hours ago.
It's very hard to win a game after two straight blowouts in the playoffs. It's even harder to totally flip the tables and blow the other team out in that situation. For that, the Cavs obviously have to be commended. But now comes the hardest proposition. It's hard to do those two things, but perhaps the hardest thing of all is to withstand the counter-attack that's assuredly coming in Game 4 and even the series. Can the Cavaliers do that Friday night?
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
When: 9:00 PM ET
Where: Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland, Ohio
Where on the electronics: ABC
Enemy Blog: Golden State Of Mind
Music: Tina Turner - What's Love Got to do With It?
What does Love have to do with it? Nothing, and everything. Predictably, there was a Twitter take-storm immediately following Game 3's finish. With Kevin Love sidelined with a concussion, the Cavs won their first game of the series in convincing fashion, and naturally, a reactionary causation was drawn between those two things. And while Love missing did impact the game, just saying that Love was the reason the Cavs won is short-sighted. The bigger reason was that the Cavs simplified what they did defensively, reducing the amount of switching they did on the perimeter and instead choosing to sit back and capitalize on the numerous mistakes Steph Curry made when he was trapped up top. The defense changed regardless of Love's involvement, and that they made so many plays in the backcourt means this could potentially carry over if Love comes back.
Offensively, the Cavs looked much better too, and this is where the Cavs likely did benefit somewhat from Love being off the floor. Without Love, the Cavs were able to run things almost exclusively through LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and their offense looked far more in sync with Kyrie dictating more of the pace. The Cavs have seemed to try to rely on playing all three of the big three together in this series, but with Love out, they stuck to Kyrie and LeBron together. With Love back, the Cavs could look to split up Love and Kyrie's minutes more, and that could be a simple adjustment that allows the Cavs to operate more comfortably offensively.
Tristan Thompson is probably the key to all of this. Thompson almost single-handedly played Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli off the floor, and with Draymond Green struggling to shoot, the Cavs were able to completely control the frontcourt play. Love or no, Thompson was just as important to Game 3's results as LeBron and Kyrie, and if he can make the same impact defending on the perimeter and rebounding as he did in Game 3, that should be enough to make Love's presence inconsequential, even if the Warriors counter by playing smaller.
Love might be back for Game 4, but we shouldn't act like it's some death knell the moment he steps on the floor. The Cavs can still play Love, although a minutes reduction, aimed at giving the Kyrie/LeBron lineups more time, might be a good answer. If that combination continues to have success, and Tristan Thompson can defend more on the perimeter at the same level he was at in Game 3, the Cavs will be able to give Kevin Love 20-25 minutes and still be very competitive.
The Warriors counters will be interesting, and could be concerning. Going small seems to be the major answer, as center-included lineups were particularly bad in that game. The Warriors also could try to let Andre Iguodala create more, forcing LeBron to defend on the ball and getting him away from the free safety role he played so well in Game 3. But the Cavs can stand tough, particularly if they play Kevin Love's return in a smart way and Tristan continues to attack the glass as well as he did on Wednesday.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: Regardless of outcome, I think we're getting our first close game of the series on Friday. If the Cavs can continue to build off of the defensive success they had in Game 3, and continue to find ways to keep the Warriors on their heels on offense, they can even the series. That's what I think will happen, too. Cavs 103, Warriors 97.