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LeBron James points to solid defense as key to playoff victories
1:80 | NBA
LeBron James points to solid defense as key to playoff victories
Thursday June 9th, 2016

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For at least one night, the Cleveland Cavaliers proved they belonged on the court with the Golden State Warriors.

After the most lopsided two-game start in Finals history, the Cavaliers returned the favor on Wednesday, blowing out the Warriors in a 120–90 win. Cleveland finally found its offense, with LeBron James easily playing his best game of the series. James was aided considerably by his maligned supporting cast, with Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith coming through with large scoring nights.

The Cavaliers came out with much more intensity in Game 3, and Richard Jefferson also helped to provide a spark in the place of an injured Kevin Love. The Cavs gave a much more focused effort on the defensive end, and their physicality seemed to catch the Warriors off guard early. It helped that their shots finally fell, too. Irving abused Golden State whenever they went under on pick-and-rolls, effortlessly swishing threes and finding his shot when given space.

•​​ MORE NBA: LeBron delivers in Game 3 rout | Warriors need Curry to step up

Smith had a vintage J.R. performance, nailing five threes en route to 20 points. Irving finished with 30 points, while James added 32 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and shot over 50%. Across the board, Cleveland had inspired play that it couldn’t muster on the road. Tristan Thompson also had a big night, with his energy on the boards helping to somewhat fend off the Warriors’ death lineup in the third quarter. 

As the Cavs’ role players stepped up, Golden State’s faded. Harrison Barnes acquitted himself well in the loss, but the likes of Shaun Livingston, Andrew Bogut and Leandro Barbosa failed to have the same impact as they did out West. Spots of foul trouble forced some of Golden State’s backups into bigger roles, which ultimately hurt the team. 

The LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry rivalry through the years

While the Golden State role players’ struggles were to be expected, Stephen Curry’s were not. Whether it’s injury related or otherwise, it’s time to start questioning Curry’s performance in these Finals. Outside of a brief stretch in the third quarter, Curry’s performance was mostly listless. He failed to create off the dribble, couldn’t take advantage of big men in the pick-and-roll and carelessly turned the ball over. Curry has hardly resembled the player who won MVP, while James was far and away the best player on the court Wednesday. 

Is this a sign of things to come for the Cavaliers? It’s hard to imagine the Warriors shooting this poorly from three again, with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green especially missing a host of looks they normally hit. But playing at home in Game 4 on Friday will certainly benefit Cleveland’s roster, which means at least two of the Warriors’ stars will need to put it together on the same night for them to return to form.

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