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June 7, 2016

​​By Anthony J. Fredella

​​CLEVELAND, Ohio - You could feel it from the opening tip inside Quicken Loans Arena. Game 3 of the NBA Finals was poised to be different. Lebron James called it a "do or die" game for his Cleveland Cavaliers, and he was sure as hell right about that. Another lost would have all but ended the Cavs' season. Instead, without Kevin Love - who failed to pass the concussion protocol - the Cavaliers flipped the script from the team that we all saw in Games 1 & 2, and looked more like the team that ran through the Eastern Conference playoffs, than the team that was wiped by the Warriors the last two times that we saw them play. For now, the Cavs live to fight another day. Whether or not tonight's Game 3 victory will carry over for the remainder of the series, we do not yet know, but it was at least a positive sign to see the Cavaliers make the adjustments necessary to grab their first win of these NBA Finals.

The main distinction for the Cavs from the outset of Game 3 was that they were not just going to settle for deep, end-of-shot clock jumpers. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, like that should have been doing this entire series, attacked the basket with impunity in the 1st half. And when the lane was closed off, Irving crossed it over and pulled up from 12 feet and in, and LeBron dished it off to a slashing teammate. When the Warriors tried to adjust in the 2nd half by collectively collapsing into the paint, that is when Irving, J.R. Smith and James stepped up again, and started drilling jumpshot after jumpshot. The offensive effort tonight from Cleveland was a team endeavor. Despite the loss of Kevin Love, the Cavs looked more fluid and confident in their sets, and everyone was ready to contribute on every trip down the floor.

The Cavaliers were also a completely different team defensively than what we have seen thus far in these Finals. The on-the-ball defense at every position - on every possession - was a far cry from the olé bullshit that put the Cavs in the 0-2 deficit to begin with. It may have been the home crowd, or the sense of urgency, but whatever the reason, tonight's defensive effort was a veritable game changer. If the Cavs defended in Game 1 like they did tonight, this series could very well be 2-1 in Cleveland's favor.

We also cannot ignore the fact that the Warriors' two leading scorers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, once again did not shoot the ball well. That was in part attributable to the Cavs' defensive pressure, and in part attributable to who the hell knows. In the 1st half though, Curry and Thompson combined for more turnovers than they did field goals. In fact, through the first quarter and a half, neither player had scored a point. In Game 1 their poor shooting was bailed out by a phenomenal bench effort. Not so much tonight. Although both found their range midway through the 3rd quarter, it was too late, even for the dynamic offense of the Warriors, as the Cavs had already built a 22 point lead and were clicking on all cylinders.

The question now begs of whether Cleveland can keep it going in Game 4 and even this series up. Your guess is as good as mine. The Cavs appear to be playing a Jekyl and Hyde routine right now that no one, not even Coach Tyronn Lue, can figure out. If the energy and effort are there again though, there is no question that the Cavs, just as they showed tonight, can handle the Warriors in Quicken Loans Arena. King James and Irving will need to remain aggressive offensively, and attack the Warriors with relentless vexation. J.R. Smith will have to actually show up for the game again on Friday night just like he finally did tonight, and Tristan Thompson will need to keep doing what Tristan Thompson does - defend and rebound. Tonight's convincing 120-90 Cavs' win will quiet the naysayers for a day or two, but if they resort back to their former ways in Game 4, not only will the critics be back, the Cavs' season may be over, as they will then head back to Oakland in a 3-1 hole.