For the first time in his Cleveland playoff career, LeBron James isn’t carrying the Cavs alone.
And for what is definitely not the first time since Tim Duncan—who San Antonio is putting it all on the line for—has been at the epicenter of their franchise, the Spurs look like very legitimate NBA title contenders.
Cleveland @ Atlanta, Game 3: Cavs 121, Hawks 108
Cavs lead series, 3-0.
Injuries: Tiago Splitter (DNP, hip surgery)
J.R. Smith’s affinity for the 3-point shot is obviously rubbing off on Cleveland in all of the right ways.
After sinking an eye-popping 25 3-pointers in their blowout Game 2 win, the Cavs came back from a halftime hole with the help of 23 more triples in Game 3. Channing Frye suddenly looked like the player the New York Knicks once envisioned him becoming with a 27-point outburst on 10-of-13 shooting, including 7-of-9 from behind the arc. Kevin Love rode a hot start to 21 points, 15 boards and five 3-pointers, and he could have had a bigger line had he not been limited by some foul trouble. Kyrie Irving, who has scored 20-plus points in every game except one this postseason, kept it going with 24 points, three steals and four long balls while LeBron James closed strong to nearly record a triple-double, finishing with 24 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and five turnovers on 8-of-16 from the floor.
No team wants to be where the Hawks currently stand. Down 0-3 to a Cavs team that is loaded with stars firing on all cylinders, it’s difficult to envision Atlanta making history in this particular scenario.
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Despite Al Horford getting back on track with 24 points, two steals, two treys and three blocks on 11-of-15 shooting and Jeff Teague enjoying his best performance of the series with 19 points and 14 assists, Atlanta was outscored by 19 points in the fourth quarter, cementing the victory for Cleveland. For what it’s worth, it didn’t look like Teague’s minor Achilles issue had any impact on his play, but his cheap shot at LeBron toward the end of the game may warrant a review from the league. It’s not too early to look ahead, and I—for one—would love to see LeBron vs. Dwyane Wade’s Heat.
The Hawks found something that worked with Kyle Korver coming off the bench behind Thabo Sefolosha, who shook off a nasty fall—and a minor elbow injury—in order to stay in the game. Following a 3-of-10 start for a combined 10 points and one 3-pointer through games one and two, Korver dropped in 18 points with five 3PM in Friday’s 32.5 minutes of work. Kent Bazemore attempted just five shots to end his night with a disappointing three points and two steals, but keep in mind that he’s being asked to exert a lot of energy on the defensive end. Paul Millsap flashed his usual statistical versatility (17 points, eight rebounds, four dimes, two steals, one block), but it doesn’t look like his fantasy postseason will last much longer.
San Antonio @ Oklahoma City: Spurs 100, Thunder 96
Spurs lead series, 2-1.
Duds: Tim Duncan
Let’s hope this series goes seven, shall we?
It’s eerie how much of Kobe Bryant’s mentality is instilled within Russell Westbrook’s mind. There’s a reason Bryant himself said Westbrook’s “approach to the game” is most similar to his own, and while that’s undoubtedly a major part of what makes him great, it can also serve as a fatal flaw and act as a detriment to his team. Westbrook’s final line (31/9/8) looks nice until glancing at the 10-of-31 from the floor, and the UCLA product at times played out of control, forced the issue and took shots when there were clearly passes to be made. When Westbrook has 13 more attempts than Kevin Durant and no other player exceeds eight FGA, it’s time to reexamine the approach. Durant finished with 26 points, five boards, three assists, a steal and a block on 10-of-18 shooting.
Serge Ibaka showed some signs of life with 15 points on five makes—all 3-pointers for OKC’s “stretch four”—but the Thunder will need someone unexpected to step up on the offensive end to get over the edge. As good as the Durant-Westbrook combination can be, OKC needs someone capable of drawing attention from the superstars so it’s not a two-man game vs. a complete San Antonio team. Given Dion Waiters, who is supposed to fill the previously described role for this club, hasn’t done anything with his minutes, this is where I ask why Cameron Payne didn’t get a bigger opportunity during the regular season.
It’s rare that 31-point, 11-rebound stat-stuffing double-double like the one Kawhi Leonard registered on Friday takes a backseat in the headlines, but Tony Parker turning back the clock will have that effect. Parker, who had more shots (12) than points (nine) in the first two games, delivered a classic throwback line with 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists on 7-of-14 from the field. LaMarcus Aldridge poured in 24 more points, but he made just 8-of-21 field goals after connecting on 33 of his previous 44 (75%) attempts. If you were ever going to use Aldridge in DFS, now would be the time.
I’m not sure what the future holds for Tim Duncan, but his greatest value during the current Spurs playoff run is as a leader and lead voice in the locker room. And if Kobe can’t be competing for a title in what was his celebrated final year, why shouldn’t we watch Duncan try to go out on top?