After losing Game 3 in Cleveland 118-113, the Cleveland Cavaliers trail the Golden State Warriors 3-0 in the NBA finals. In the history of the NBA, no team has ever blown a 3-0 series lead. In other words, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have to pull off the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history if they want to repeat as champions. However, as a Yankees fan, a 3-0 series lead will always make me cower in fear. Flashbacks of the 2004 American League Championship Series rear their ugly faces as I am forced to relive the horrors of blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Red Sox. Since I have some experience in this area, I think that I know how the Cavs can do the impossible and repeat as champions despite being down three games to zero in the NBA finals.
Cleveland’s Big Three All Need to Play Well
After decimating the entire Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers have failed to receive strong contributions from LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in an NBA Finals game. In Game 1, LeBron scored 28 points to go along with 15 rebounds and 8 assists while Kyrie only scored 24 points on 10-22 shooting and Love scored 15 points on 4-13 shooting. In Game 2, LeBron posted a triple double with 29 points as Kyrie only shot 8-23 from the floor and Love scored 27 points. In Game 3, LeBron and Kyrie combined to scored 77 points as Love only scored 9 on 1-9 shooting from the floor. In order for the Cavs to win the next four games, all three players will have to score at least 25 points per game.
Last year in the NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving outplayed Steph Curry. Irving averaged 27.1 points per game on 46.8% shooting from the floor and 40.5% shooting from three point range including that clutch game winner he hit in Game 7. However, the Cavs were very fortunate to win the championship last season due to Kevin Love’s pedestrian performance in the NBA Finals. In last year’s Finals, Love averaged 7.3 points per game on 36.2% shooting from the floor and 26.3% from three point range. Despite Love’s jump from 7.3 points per game in the Finals last season to 17.0 points per game in the Finals this season, Love has to consistently do more if this team is going to beat Golden State four straight times. Love will need to score at least 25 points per game the rest of the way if the Cavaliers have any hope of consistently outscoring the Warriors in four straight games. Meanwhile, LeBron and Kyrie will both have to score at least 30 points per game moving forward and will have to improve their play at the defensive end as well.
Cavs’ Bench Needs to Play Better
Over the first three games of the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers’ bench has been outscored by the Warriors’ bench by 16 points. This veteran-led unit continues to miss open three point shots and is struggling heavily on the defensive end to stop the younger bench unit of Golden State. However, there are two bench players that need to be blamed for the entire unit’s struggles; Deron Williams and Kyle Korver.
Deron Williams has proven in this year’s Finals that he is no longer an NBA quality player and that he is, at best, a shell of his former self. In the NBA Finals thus far, Williams has scored a resounding zero points despite playing about 12 minutes per game. Williams is 0-11 from the floor with six personal fouls and two turnovers. Williams has looked completely lost on both offense and defense and should take the majority of the blame for the bench’s struggles because he is the point guard. He is supposed to control the tempo and create good opportunities for his teammates, as well as himself, to score at a consistent rate. Unfortunately for the Cavs, that has not been the case. Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue should seriously consider benching Williams for the remainder of the series because of his awful performance on the court and replace him with Iman Shumpert as the team’s second point guard.
At this year’s trade deadline, the Cavaliers decided to trade for Hawks forward Kyle Korver because of his ability to shoot threes at an extraordinary rate. At the time, the move made logical sense because of the Cavaliers’ desire to obtain more elite three point shooters in order to effectively challenge the Warriors. In other words, this Korver trade was only done for the sake of the NBA Finals because of Korver’s ability to knock down threes with an efficiency that rivals the likes of Curry and Thompson. So far, this trade looks like a colossal bust. In the NBA Finals, Korver is averaging only 5.3 points per game on 35.7% shooting from the field and 25.0% from three point range in just over 22 minutes per game. Korver’s inability to shoot in these Finals might have prevented the Cavs from winning Game 3 after he bricked a potential game clinching three pointer with 53 seconds left with his team up 113-111.
Besides these two players, the Cavaliers’ bench has actually played pretty well. Players like Richard Jefferson and Shumpert continue to log solid minutes off the bench but the struggles of Williams and Korver have become too much to overcome. If the Cavaliers plan on winning this series, Korver and Williams will need to hit their shots and play better defense on the perimeter.
Lebron Has to Close Games Out Himself
Throughout the course of his career, I have always thought that LeBron James was not a clutch basketball player. LeBron, in my eyes, is a superstar who is constantly compared to Michael Jordan despite lacking a desire to shoot down the stretch of ballgames. Last season, LeBron temporarily proved me wrong as he blocked Andre Iguodala in the final minutes of Game 7 on his way to a championship. However, LeBron has recently returned to his non-clutch self and prevented his team from obtaining a much needed Game 3 victory. LeBron missed an easy layup with 3:47 left in the game, passed out of a one-on-one situation with 55 seconds left and was also stripped in the last 15 seconds with a chance to tie the game. In the 2017 NBA Finals, LeBron is averaging less than 4 points per game in the fourth quarter. That is absolutely pathetic considering the fact the LeBron is probably still the best basketball player in the whole league. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant is averaging over 10 points per game in the fourth quarter this NBA Finals and even hit a go-ahead three pointer in LeBron’s face in Game 3. LeBron managed to get away with letting Kyrie Irving take the clutch shot in Game 7 of the Finals last year, but he will not be able to do that again. If the Cavaliers are going to win, LeBron is going to have to play a lot better in the fourth quarters of games and will need to make several key baskets down the stretch while also limiting Durant’s effectiveness.
If all of these events do not occur, the Cavaliers will not remain the NBA champions and can possibly get swept when they play the Warriors in Game 4 on June 9.