Winning an NBA Championship is not easy. Winning it without the home court advantage is even more difficult. For the second time in these playoffs, the Warriors found themselves in just such a scenario versus the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. With the series tied at 1-1, I expected the Warriors to come out with a maximum intensity level. That extra effort seemed to come from the Cavaliers, unfortunately.
Yes, the night belonged to Cleveland, although I was pleased that the Warriors fought back after being down by as many as 20 points after the third quarter.
The Dubs started Game 3 by shooting just 38 percent from the field and 15 percent from 3-point territory (1-7). Miraculously, the Warriors only trailed 24-20 after the first quarter thanks to six offensive rebounds, which enabled them to get 23 shots, the same as the home team.
The second quarter was, to be blunt, ugly. The officials continued to allow ridiculously excessive contact. I do not understand why they are refusing to call fouls. At times, I felt as though the players were allowed three fouls before one was called. I was appalled at the physical roughness that was permitted all night, and of course, players will play as rough as the referees let them.
The two stars of their respective teams, LeBron James for the Cavaliers and Stephen Curry for the Warriors, struggled offensively in the first half. James shot just 6 of 17 and Curry went 1 of 6. Both players took bad shots, many of them forced. If a shooter, especially an outside shooter like Steph, is struggling, the best remedy is to try and get a few easy shots to gain some confidence and get in a rhythm. The Cavaliers didn't allow Curry the chance to do that as they played tough, physical defense, making him work for even off balance shots.
Considering that the Dubs shot 34 percent from the field, 19 percent from beyond the arc (3 of 16) and just 57 percent from the free throw line in the first half, they were lucky to be trailing only 44-37. The slower tempo definitely favored the Cavaliers once again.
The third quarter was disastrous for the Warriors. Cleveland did to Golden State what the Warriors did to most teams during the regular season. They played loose. They played unselfishly. They hustled. They fed off of each other's success. They shot the ball well from beyond the arc. They controlled the tempo. They gained momentum and rode it. They gave the home crowd a spectacular show as they flat-out manhandled the Warriors.
I loved when coach Steve Kerr told the team during a timeout that they were too good to be hanging their heads. He switched to a smaller lineup, and to their credit, the team responded cutting the 17 point deficit at the start of the third quarter to one with 2:40 remaining. Curry broke out of his mini-slump and regained his shooting stroke, but it wasn't enough.
Unfortunately, last night's game was critical if you play the odds at all. When an NBA Finals series is tied 1-1, the Game 3 winner goes on to win the title 84 percent of the time. On Thursday, the Warriors will be facing their biggest challenge of the season as they attempt to pull even in the series and regain the home court advantage.
Rick Barry played eight seasons for the Warriors and was the captain of their only Bay Area NBA championship team. In 1987, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His commentary will appear exclusively in The San Francisco Examiner throughout the playoffs.