The Cavaliers are two wins away from breaking the infamous title drought in the city of Cleveland, and they’re doing it on the back of LeBron James. James has scored, assisted, or created 200 of the Cavs' 291 points through three games in this NBA Finals. The King is averaging 41 points, 12 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1 block in the series.
The accolades continue to pile up as LeBron broke the record set by Rick Barry in 1967 for the most points scored in the first three games in NBA Finals history.
It seems like a long time ago when the Warriors took a 1-0 series lead after a win in overtime and a season-ending knee injury for Kyrie Irving was the deflating news after the loss. Many said the Cavs wouldn’t even win a game, but here we are after Game 3, talking about the best basketball player in the world willing his team to a 2-1 series lead with Matthew Dellavedova as his running mate.
The suffocating Cavaliers team defense has limited the run and gun, three-point shooting offense from the Warriors. The body language from the Warriors throughout the first three quarters in Game 3 said it all. You could see the frustration and anger on the faces of many of the Warriors, including the league MVP, Stephen Curry.
We cannot call Dellavedova the Curry stopper just yet, but he is making a strong case behind his pesky defense. There were five or six times in the first quarter alone that Curry broke free of Delly on screens, but the open shots weren’t falling. You can contribute that to being frustrated, being tired from the constant feeling of having a thorn in your side from the defense by Delly or it could just simply be that sometimes shooters have bad nights.
It’s a combination of all three. Curry has led the charge for his Warriors throughout the playoffs, running through the defensive-minded Memphis Grizzlies and knocking off a Houston team that had the runner up for the MVP in James Harden. Even in the first-round sweep of the New Orleans Pelicans, Curry exerted himself a lot in a come-from-behind victory that he led in New Orleans.
Every superstar has gone through some sort of growing pains before winning his first NBA title, and we could be watching those pains play out in this series for Curry. We watched LeBron go through them in his first finals in 2007 against the San Antonio Spurs and saw them again in the 2011 finals against the Dallas Mavericks.
We know LeBron came back to win back-to-back championships before falling to the Spurs again. Each finals appearance, we have seen LeBron grow into the type of leader he is now, leading a team that he didn’t even go through training camp with for the most part. Think about that for a minute. The starting lineup for the Cavs on the opening night of the season is completely different, with LeBron being the only one who has remained consistent. James opened up the season against the New York Knicks, with J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert helping New York pick up one of their 17 wins on opening night in Cleveland. Smith and Shumpert are now both integral parts of helping the Cavs and James win a championship.
This author has watched James closely since he emerged onto the scene in 2002-2003 as a high school senior in Akron and has never seen him so confident in his ability to completely dominate and control a basketball game. Even his teammate and longtime friend, Dwyane Wade, who has battled with him through those championship years in Miami said on TV last night when he was interviewing LeBron that he has never seen him with this type of focus and play, and asked him what the difference or drive is this season. That’s another testament that we are seeing something from LeBron James that we have never seen before, and it has been incredible.
James' pure dominance has been the storyline, but another thing to look out for is the current NBA MVP’s mindset in Game 4. Curry got going last night in the fourth quarter, bringing back the game to within single digits after the lead ballooned to over 20. Curry seemed to find his stroke, something any shooter could recognize, and Cleveland sensed the danger a little bit. Curry finished with 27 points on 10 of 20 shooting, many of those coming during a 25-9 fourth quarter run from his Warriors.
Is it a must win for the Warriors in Game 4? Yes, solely based on the fact that the Warriors, or anyone for that matter, can beat LeBron James in three straight games at this point.