NBA: James pivotal in Cavs' revival

He scores 32pts as his side wallop Warriors, cutting their NBA Finals series deficit to 2-1

After being soundly beaten in the opening two games of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers had labelled Wednesday's Game 3 as a "do-or-die" affair.

That desperation fuelled an intensity that was not evident in the Cavs' first two Finals games, as they walloped the Golden State Warriors 120-90 at the Quicken Loans Arena to breathe life back into their title hopes.

The hosts were dominant both offensively and defensively. They shot 53 per cent from the field and 48 per cent from beyond the arc, and hauled down 52 rebounds. The Warriors struggled to a meagre 42 per cent from the field, 27 per cent from the three-point line and 32 rebounds.

Cavs star LeBron James,who returned to Cleveland last year vowing to bring a national sports championship to the city for the first time since 1964, led all scorers with 32 points.

He also had 11 rebounds and six assists, as well as the highlight of the game when he stole the ball from Stephen Curry in the third quarter, stumbled but managed to pass to Kyrie Irving, then leapt for a ferocious dunk off Irving's alley-oop pass.

Irving, who chipped in with 30 points, got the night's first basket, and Cleveland never trailed as they raced to a 9-0 start. He had 16 points in the first quarter - the same as the entire Warriors team as the Cavs ran up a 33-16 lead.

Cleveland's LeBron James dunks as Golden State's Andre Iguodala (centre) and Shaun Livingston look on. James set the tone for a 120-90 win to cut the Warriors' lead in the Finals to 2-1.
Cleveland's LeBron James dunks as Golden State's Andre Iguodala (centre) and Shaun Livingston look on. James set the tone for a 120-90 win to cut the Warriors' lead in the Finals to 2-1. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

OUTGUNNED FROM THE START

Soft. We were extremely soft to start the game, and they set the tone with their intensity. I think it was 9-0 and we had to call a timeout. Just a horrible way to start.

STEVE KERR, coach of the Warriors, on the way the Cavaliers dominated proceedings with a comfortable start-to-finish victory.

The hosts' defence shut down Klay Thompson, one half of the Splash Brothers, who scored just 10 points.

The other half of the duo, reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Curry, did not fare much better. He contributed just 19 points, of which only two came in the first half.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr used the "s" word to describe his team's performance in the post-game press conference, one that he repeated over and over - "soft".

"We weren't ready to play," he said. "Obviously they just punched us right in the mouth, right in the beginning. We were turning the ball over like crazy.

"Soft. We were extremely soft to start the game, and they set the tone with their intensity. I think it was 9-0 and we had to call a timeout. Just a horrible way to start."

This is the first time in the NBA Finals that a team won one game by 30 or more points and then lost the next by 30 or more.

Kerr added: "It's going to take more than an effort like that to win a Finals game against a great team."

Despite his own dominant performance, James was quick to dish out credit to others for the win.

"My team-mates got me going. They told me to be aggressive and that's what I was," he said. "It was just a collective team win."

There was, however, a glaring omission in that effort. The third member of Cleveland's vaunted "Big Three", Kevin Love, sat out the game with a concussion.

His absence - and the resulting turnaround by the Cavs - was not lost on fans or experts alike. The Cavs put James in the power forward position, inserted veteran Richard Jefferson into the starting line-up, and were able to push the tempo to pressure the normally unflappable Warriors.

ESPN sports writer Brian Windhorst predicted that, while Love might start Game 4, he would not remain in the line-up for long.

Not surprisingly, whether or not the Cavs will bring Love back for the next game was one of the first questions posed to coach Tyronn Lue after the game.

"Do I have to tell you?" he said. "I'm not going to tell you."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'James pivotal in Cavs' revival'. Print Edition | Subscribe