Two wins away from another NBA championship, Stephen Curry and the Warriors didn’t look coronation-worthy.
The desperate Cleveland Cavaliers took full advantage and routed the Warriors 120-90 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday to cut Golden State’s lead in the series to 2-1.
After the Warriors had won by 33 points in Game 2, Cleveland returned the favor, and with the message that the title wasn’t going to be won so easily as the Cavaliers stayed undefeated at home this postseason.
“This was about one team being emotionally fired up and angry about being down 2-0, and another team being comfortable,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
Conceded Shaun Livingston: “It’s human nature. You’re up two games and feeling good about yourself. You let your guard down. That’s what makes the great teams great. They don’t let their guard down.”
Curry scored 19 points, but was 3 for 9 from 3-point range and committed six turnovers while having lapses on defense. He got off to an atrocious start in the first half, being held to two points while committing three turnovers and three fouls.
“I’m disappointed that I didn’t do anything to help my team win tonight,” Curry lamented.
LeBron James won the battle, racking up 32 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Kyrie Irving had 30 points and eight assists while Tristan Thompson added 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Klay Thompson was held to 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting as neither of the Splash Brothers were in sync.
“I think most of it’s just energy, just matching that team’s energy,” Thompson said. “They were hungrier than us tonight. There’s no excuse for us.”
The Cavaliers won the rebounding battle 52-32. The Warriors were 9 for 33 from 3-point range and committed 18 turnovers.
“We weren’t tough enough,” Kerr said. “We weren’t strong enough with the ball. We were soft.
“And when you’re soft, you get beat on the glass and you turn the ball over.”
Everything went wrong for the Warriors in the first quarter, as they trailed by as many as 20 points. Curry was 0 for 3 with two turnovers.
“It was that first eight to 10 minutes where they came out with a huge punch and we didn’t handle it well at all,” Curry said.
The Cavaliers scored the first nine points, with the run capped by a 3-pointer from Richard Jefferson, who was coach Tyronn Lue’s choice to replace a concussed Kevin Love in the lineup.
“Soft,” Kerr kept saying. “We were extremely soft to start the game, and then they set the tone with their intensity.”
Irving, who had struggled earlier in the series, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Cavaliers’ lead to 33-13.
Meanwhile, the desperate Cavaliers made 15 of their first 21 shots, with James beginning 4 for 4 and Irving 7 for 9.
“They came out and played like a team with a sense of desperation like their season was on the line,” Draymond Green said. “And we came out and played like everything was peaches and cream.
“They outplayed us. That was the only adjustment. For us, there’s no adjustment. Don’t get outplayed.”
Curry finally scored his first points on a wide-open bank shot in the paint with 4:05 left in the first half, but the unanimous MVP followed that with a turnover and was briefly pulled out of the game by Kerr to chat.
“I would have done the same thing,” Curry said. “He’s trying to get it some life and figure out a way to maybe get me going. It was a short talk, but it will carry over to Game 4, for sure, with the way we’ll start the game.”
The Warriors got back into the game and trailed 51-43 at halftime, but James, the four-time MVP caught fire in the third. He had a stretch of scoring nine of 12 Cavaliers points on jump shots, including a 3-pointer that gave them a 70-48 lead.
When James earned a trip to the free throw line, fans chanted, “MVP! MVP!” He finished 14 for 26 from the field, had a soaring dunk off a lob from Irving, and also tried to stymie the reigning MVP at every turn.
As if to send a message in the final seconds of the third, after a whistle, James blocked Curry at the rim as he went in for a practice layup and then stared.
“When you have the greatest shooter in the world trying to get an easy one or trying to get in rhythm, it’s our job to try to keep him out,” James said. “No matter if it’s after the whistle or not.”