The Cleveland Cavaliers proved that the series wasn't over quite yet, and ground out a 96-91 victory today at home, taking the series lead 2-1.
The punishing, torturous LeBron-centric offense we saw in Game 2 continued to work. Until the Warriors find a way to counter, it's unlikely the Cavaliers will deviate from this brutal, old-school style of play. An energetic LeBron James looked ready to impose his will on offense, and took it to the rim at every opportunity. He made the team's first 8 points, and by the end of the game, accounted for nearly half of the team's total shot attempts.
Without LeBron, the Cavaliers might succeed in making a stone bleed quicker than they could generate a decent offense. This Finals, any lineup without LeBron coughs up a pitiful 55.1 points per 100 possessions. This number doesn't sound horrific, until you realise the Cavaliers' favourite postseason lineup (Kyrie, James, Thompson, Smith, Mozgov) boasts 106.8 per 100 possessions. Yes, an extra 51.7 points.
Clunky offense aside, it was the defense that was key to the Cavaliers' success. They reined in Golden State's transition opportunities, pressured Curry hard, and left the Warriors struggling to score at their usual fluid pace. The scoring drought is no longer a slump, but a definite sign that the Cavaliers have found success on containing the fast-paced, quick-firing Warriors team. The proof? Golden State struggled to reach the 20-point mark for the first three quarters, and never got close enough to take the lead all night long.
The fourth quarter was when the Golden State bench showed their worth. Andre Iguodala and David Lee made a huge impact off the bench, steadying the game for Stephen Curry, whose shooting stroke was cold for most of the first half (3 points, 1 of 6 from the field). It might have to do with a certain Australian player.
Dellavedova giving Curry plenty of trouble pic.twitter.com/XM6Nh0aV6f
— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) June 10, 2015
Fourth quarter time is Delly time
This might sound unthinkable, but Matthew Dellavedova was the second leading scorer behind LeBron James today. He had a playoff career high of 20 points on 7 of 17 shooting, and hit 2 of 6 three-point attempts, together with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and only 2 turnovers in 38 minutes of play.
Delly was everywhere, trying to make things happen. He leaped out of bounds to save a ball, had his layup swatted, sank a deep three from a James kickout, threw a pretty lob to LeBron, and even managed a mid-air putback from a Mozgov miss.
Before the playoffs began, no one would have thought of Dellavedova as Cleveland's wildcard to playoffs success, but he proved it once again tonight. Undrafted NBA sophomore, Cleveland reserve guard, and man of the hour, all rolled in one.
With less than three minutes left in the game, Curry had shaved Cleveland's lead down to a single point. The situation had all the makings of a Warriors comeback win...
And Delly happened again.
Playing off a high LeBron screen, Dellavedova tried to drive past the initial Iguodala hedge, and nearly fumbled the ball away. What happened next was entirely unexpected. Dellavedova managed to gather the ball, and awkwardly stumbled while launching an off-balance floater. Curry took a swipe at the shot, and referee's whistle sounded. But it was too late. The ball was already in the air, spinning towards the backboard, and came down for a perfect bank shot.
[gfycat data_id="FondAstonishingAnhinga" data_autoplay=true data_expand=true]
This was probably how every Golden State fan out there felt like.
[gfycat data_id="GracefulGenerousBear" data_autoplay=true data_expand=true] Dellavedova made his free throw, and the lead was now 4 - a two-possession game.
The Warriors tried to fight back, but failed to execute. A contested Green layup nearly led to Delly taking the ball away, but Green corralled the loose ball and chucked it back out to Curry. With the game on the line, Curry made a behind the back bounce pass for an open Green three. It was unfortunately off course, flying out of bounds. Turnover.
LeBron James stepped up to close the game out, making a three to stretch the lead to 7, and the night was over.
Just a bit of niggle right there
Cue the dirty play talk. After being hit with a hard screen from Draymond Green, Delly got up from the floor and made a beeline for Curry, bumping Green and sending the big man sprawling.
Nothing to see here folks, just some good old Australian niggle at work.
Matthew Dellavedova is slowly but surely putting himself, and also Australian basketball in the limelight with his unceasing efforts and big-time plays, and making an incredible impact in the Finals.
The numbers concur: Delly has had the biggest plus/minus ratio in the past two games.
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) June 10, 2015
Will the Delly factor be enough for the shorthanded, battered Cavaliers pull this off again in Game 4, and secure a 3-1 advantage?
The game definitely took its toll on Dellavedova. According to Dave McMenamin, Delly experienced severe cramping during the game and needed an IV. He will be sent to the Cleveland Clinic for further treatment. More updates to come tomorrow (official team announcement).
Golden State is definitely not going to back down and let the series go like this, but the question beckons: What is the key? Is it finally time to lock James down, and let everyone else beat you? Coach Kerr has indicated that the lineup will likely not be adjusted, but is that the right thing to do? Should the Warriors go small full-time, and forget about playing Bogut? Do they go bigger in an attempt to regain the rebounding advantage?
The Warriors need to find their mojo, fast. I'm looking forward to the next battle already.