NBA Finals Game 3 Preview

Well we probably haven’t been allotted the appropriate amount of time to digest what exactly happened in Game 2, nevertheless Game 3 is tonight and with the series tied at one game apiece, it looms exponentially large. Here are five things to watch for entering Game 3.

  • Steph Curry’s Aggressiveness

After arguably the worst performance of his career, in which his jumper diminished into a rubble of brick and he gifted the Cavaliers with a series of careless turnovers down the stretch, Curry’s Game 3 performance will be thoroughly under the microscope. It’s safe to expect a return to normalcy of Curry’s dead-eye perimeter shooting, but his method of attack when operating the pick-and-roll has the potential to bend the Cavs defense to the breaking point. I would like to see Curry deploy a prolonged live dribble in these scenarios, stretching out Cleveland’s bigs to the max, and every so often turning on the turbo boosters to jet around the corner and penetrate the heart of Cleveland’s defense. In addition to turning the corner, Curry should be hunting opportunities to attack the paint by knifing between the trailing guard and the trapping big man, something he had great success with throughout Game 2, including his game-tying fingeroll at the end of regulation.

curry knife gw quality

curry knife quality

I’m confident to chalk Curry’s Game 2 performance more to his own faults than to Matthew Dellavedova’s hounding and pesky defense. Dellavedova deserves credit for making Curry work (and for being such an impactful player while lacking any superior with the exception of effort), but when you actually go back and watch Curry’s shots, several of them fall into the category of good looks for any threatening NBA shooter, while nearly all, aside from a couple late-clock prayers, can be firmly placed into the category of That’s Certainly a Makeable Shot for Steph. Give Delly his due, but give Steph his respect.

  • Timofey Mozgov’s Minutes

Mozgov was like Sasquatch in Game 2, thundering down the lane for dunks, tossing defenders aside to snare offensive rebounds, and utilizing his massive size and extended reach to perturb Golden State drives to the rim. He was Cleveland’s second best player on the court (guess who was first)[1], and yet, he didn’t play a single minute after the third quarter. Mozgov mysteriously vanished, just as Squatches always seem to do on Finding Bigfoot, when Steve Kerr unveiled his small ball lineup featuring increased speed and quickness.

mozgov

However, Mozgov fended admirably earlier in the contest when the Warriors played small, giving Andre Iguodala the Tony Allen treatment and patrolling the paint seeking to provide help wherever needed. If head coach, David Blatt’s worries subside concerning Mozgov’s matchup against small ball, Mozgov could punish Golden State with his plodding, but effective rim runs and overwhelming presence on the offensive glass.

  • Defending Matthew Dellavedova

Dellavedova should be a drastic downgrade for the Cavs at point guard in comparison to Kyrie Irving, right? He wasn’t in Game 2, where his hustle and defensive toughness, outweighed Kyrie’s offensive wizardry. While Dellavedova is certainly a notch[2] above Kyrie on the defensive end, his offense is worthy of being repeatedly featured on blooper reels as he tosses alley-oops to invisible teammates and mirrors a frog with every hoisted 3.

delly

Kerr can utilize the glaring offensive holes in Delly’s skillset by helping off of him repeatedly to double LeBron, chuck the roll man in pick-and-rolls, or rotate to more competent shooters. Even committing the cardinal sin of helping off Dellavedova from the strong side of a pick-and-roll should be in play for Kerr. However, to maximize this strategy, Kerr may want to consider defending Dellavedova with a longer player like Harrison Barnes or a more active defender like Draymond Green[3] who can severely tip the scales in Golden State’s favor with impactful help defense.

  • Utilization of James Jones

Jones boasted a plus-minus rating of +22 in 22 total minutes in Game 2[1]. He scored eight points and went 2-4 from 3, but the spacing he provided the Cavaliers offense cannot be overstated. In comparison to the Cavs’ starting lineup where the best shooter may be actually be Mozgov, relative to position, Jones is the equivalent of Kyle Korver. He doesn’t do much besides spot up and he probably totaled more shots this season than number of dribbles, but without Irving or Kevin Love he has become an essential component of the Cavaliers offensive potency. His spacing allows uninhibited rim runs from Mozgov and Tristan Thompson as defenders are weary to leave Jones to muck up the path of a rolling big man. When watching the tape, Jones’ impact went far beyond the box score and I’m curious to see if Blatt opts to give him more minutes in Game 3, especially with JR Smith shooting just 31 percent in the Finals and committing a trifecta of JR Smith-style fouls down the stretch of Game 2.

jones

  • Off-Ball Screening

The Warriors’ screen-heavy scheme has been bogged down by the stingy Cavalier defense due to Cleveland’s effective strategy handling pick-and-rolls and overall discipline tracking off-ball screens, such as curl screens and pin downs. With the exception of Smith being prone to lapses off the ball a few times per game, the Cavaliers are having success by hugging the jerseys of the Splash Brothers when bracing for a screen and playing with great effort to battle through it and recover.

 klay

However, with this aggressive defensive style, Golden State may look to counter with an increased number of back screens and flare screens to free up its deadly combo. Due to their presence as shooting threats, both Curry and Thompson can catch their defender cheating to get over a screen, thus providing the optimal angle for a back screen or back door cut. Also evening out the distribution of pin downs and flare screens for Thompson puts pressure on his defender to engage in a guessing game with potentially fatal results. The Warriors haven’t ran many flare sets for Thompson thus far in the Finals, but they have encountered success when they’ve engaged in such action and it should be a larger part of their gameplan moving forward:

Klay Flare

On to Game 3.

[1] Mike Miller, of course.

[2] Okay a couple notches. Actually those notches became so numerous the piece of wood split in half resulting in the appropriate gap between Delly and Kyrie’s defense.

[3] In addition to Klay Thompson, who saw a lot of Dellavedova in Game 1. Just not Curry who could easily be hidden on Shumpert or James Jones. Optimally on Shumpert because of the threat of being placed into LeBron-Jones pick-and-pops.

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