The Runner Sports

How Cavaliers Can Win Game 3

Well, the NBA Finals have not been competitive. Most experts predicted this, with the most common pick being Warriors in 5. Personally, I had Warriors in 6, but I am not sure the Cleveland Cavaliers can get two wins in this series anymore. Golden State has blown Cleveland off the floor in the first two games. Kevin Durant has been better than LeBron James. The Warriors’ collection of talent, versatility, depth, basketball I.Q, and toughness makes them one of the best teams of all time. As great as LeBron is, the Cavs have simply seemed overwhelmed. On Wednesday, the series shifts to Cleveland. Here is what Cleveland can do to win game 3. First, let’s look back at what happened in Games 1 and 2.

Games 1 & 2

Game 1 saw the Warriors win by 22, Game 2 saw the Warriors win by 19. Game 1 saw the Cavs turn the ball over 20 times compared to the Warriors’ 4. LeBron himself had 8. This was the one battle the Cavs absolutely had to win and they were destroyed. Cleveland won the rebounding battle, had more free throws, and held the Warriors to 42% shooting from the field and 36% from three. Turnovers were the difference, and Golden State made Cleveland pay for every turnover. Golden State had 21 points off turnovers. The turnovers also greatly affected Cleveland’s offense as they only shot 34% from the field, and had 91 points, way below their playoff averages.

Game 2, was a different story. LeBron and Kevin Love were brilliant in the first half and were within three by halftime. Cleveland fixed the turnovers, as they only had 9 in Game 2, and even forced Golden State into 20. The problem was they went small, and Golden state took advantage on the boards, winning the battle by 12. An even bigger problem was Cleveland’s three-point defense. Golden State hit 18 threes on 41% shooting. Overall they shot 51% from the field. Stephen Curry and Durant were magnificent, scoring 32 and 33 respectively. This speaks to the bigger issue for Cleveland. They simply have too many holes to fill.

Game 3 Adjustments

Pace! This is huge. The Warriors want to run every chance they get. Cleveland needs to do the balancing act of slowing down the pace while running selectively. Golden State averages 103 possessions a game in the playoffs compared to only 97 for Cleveland. In halfcourt sets, expect more post ups for LeBron. LeBron will need to dribble the ball deep into the shot clock and then be effective once he gets into his action.

The Cavs’ best defense is their offense. They will need to play keep away from the Warriors while shooting at least 47% from the field. The time to run is when Golden State turns it over. LeBron needs the ball in his hands and to punish the Warriors in transition. As I mentioned earlier, the Cavs simply have to win the turnover battle. This is the key to dictating the pace. Cleveland not only has to win the turnover battle, but the rebounding battle on top of it. This is tough as Tristan Thompson has been non-existent in this series. He has to rebound and get a few offensive rebounds to get Cleveland some more possessions. If they win both these battle they have a chance.

Another change the Cavs are reportedly ready to make is inserting Iman Shumpert for J.R Smith in the starting lineup. Smith has been awful so far, so I like the move. Shumpert would no doubt be an upgrade defensively; the key is his offense. Golden State will dare him to make shots, if he can hit a few, it would be huge. Cleveland has yet to have a role player to step up in this series. Someone of the Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Smith, and Shumpert group has to have a big game.

Finally, three-point defense. We all know Golden State takes and makes a lot of threes. The magic number is 38%. Cleveland has to hold Golden State under that mark. Dare Andre Iguodala and even Draymond Green to hit threes. Everyone else you got to run them off the line. Cleveland has been switching everything on defense and that has led to some breakdowns. I like the idea, but Cleveland may have to alter their lineups a bit.

James, Shumpert, Thompson, JR Smith, and Kyrie Irving is an interesting lineup. Irving is the only minus defender of the group. It’s a smaller lineup, so everyone will have to gang rebound. However, it’s Cleveland’s most versatile defensive unit. It allows them to switch everything while avoiding mismatches. You can even enter Richard Jefferson for Irving for a better defensive unit. Jefferson can take Durant for a few minutes. This unit would require LeBron to be super aggressive and effective offensively. Speaking of which…

LeBron was sensational in the first half of Game 2. Driving to the rim relentlessly and firing off some great passes. In the second half, when Golden State went on one of their runs, LeBron took some bad shots to try to keep up. He needs to be aggressive for the whole game. Simply put, he has to be superhuman and put up lines like 35-10-10. I think he may have to play the whole game. Also in the second half of Game 2, he made the mistake of trying to get Kyrie going. James needs to do that earlier, in the second half he just needs to focus on himself being aggressive.

Final Thoughts

I have been very impressed with Kevin Love this series. Keep feeding him in the post. His defense has also been better than I have expected. Love at the five has been a good look. In Game 3 he will need to both score and rebound. Kyrie has struggled. Klay Thompson has been all over him. When Draymond is switched onto him, Irving needs to attack and either get him into foul trouble, or nail his patented midrange jumper. Draymond got in foul trouble in Game 2, and that was big, but Cleveland probably needs to get another member of the big four in foul trouble. As you can see Cleveland has to do a lot right. Here is a recap of the top five.

  1. Win Turnover Battle
  2. Win Rebounding Battle
  3. Hold Golden State to less than 38% from three
  4. Shoot at least 47% from the field
  5. One of the Shumpert, Smith, Korver, and Williams group has to have a double-digit game

On the bright side, role players usually play better at home. I am sure some of Golden State’s role players may struggle. Cleveland’s back is against the wall, so expect their absolute best. For that reason, I like Cleveland to win Game 3. After that, it’s Golden State’s finals to win, and we should all get used to that sentence.

Evan Dyal

Evan Dyal

Charlotte Hornets Writer at The Runner Sports
Evan Dyal