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LeBron James answers critics with masterful game, now spotlight on Stephen Curry

2016 NBA Finals - Game Three

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts during the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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LeBron James’ always vocal critics were feasting for two games.

Even Phil Jackson stepped in with the off-target critique LeBron has had to hear too much throughout his career — why can’t he be more like Jordan?

LeBron shut them up with his dominant Game 3. At least for a day. Not that he has ever cared what anyone outside his inner circle thinks, he just wanted to win a basketball game. However, put at the four with Kevin Love out, LeBron found more space to operate and that plus a more attacking mindset had the Cavaliers off to the races from the opening tip.

Now that same spotlight, that same critique has shifted to the reigning MVP.

What has happened to Stephen Curry?

He played terribly in Game 3 — to the point Steve Kerr pulled him to get Shaun Livingston in for a stretch. Why isn’t he taking over games?

“He just didn’t play well,” was how Steve Kerr undersold it.

Curry was 1-of-5 shooting in the first half, with two points and three turnovers in the portion of the game where the Cavs took control. He put up better numbers in the third — 13 points, hitting three shots from beyond the arc — but he was also a -12 for the quarter as Cleveland pulled away and sealed the game. Curry’s defense was poor and the Cavaliers went right at him all game.

“Unfortunately, it was all me,” Curry said, taking the blame (as LeBron had done when the spotlight was on him). “They were playing aggressive defense and they came out with a big punch. I didn’t do anything about it or play my game, and for me to do what I need to do to help my team, I have to play a hundred times better than that, especially in the first quarter, to kind of control the game, and I didn’t do it.”

From the opening tip of the series Cleveland’s defensive game plan could be summed up as “don’t let Curry and Klay Thompson beat us.” They have picked them up especially high, trapped and doubled, switched off-ball picks, basically doing whatever they can to get they ball out of Curry and Thompson’s hands.

“Those guys can get it going in bunches, and you saw Steph in the third quarter, as well as Klay in the second quarter when those guys just have the ability to get downhill, as well as spray out to the three-point line,” Kyrie Irving said. “So just having our antennas on the defensive end, but as well as making them work on the offensive end while we’re just being aggressive….

“It’s a total team effort on our end, and (J.R. Smith) does a great job on Klay. I just try to pick up Steph as high as possible, and our bigs do a great job getting up to touch.”

Curry and Thompson have not gone off and single-handedly won a game this series. It didn’t matter with the Warriors bench scoring 45 in the first game and Draymond Green dropping 28 in the second. Of course, Curry still got the off-target questioning along the lines of “but you’re not putting yourself in position to win Finals MVP” to which he responded that as long as a Warrior won it and he got a ring, he was good with it.

Now the questions about Curry’s play will intensify after a loss. For some fans (and old-school media members), the only way right way win is to do it in a Jordan or Kobe manner, where one player dominates the ball and the game. It’s a line of thinking that shows a lack of understanding of the game.

That said, the Warriors do need more out of Curry. Starting in Game 4. They need more of the MVP-style Curry from the regular season.

It doesn’t need to be a complete onslaught, if what comes of a few points that bends the Cavaliers defense even further, it opens things up for others to break it (as happened in the first two games).

Curry’s play has brought this spotlight and these questions, he’s been pedestrian this series by the bar he has set for himself — 16 points per game, 43.6 percent shooting overall, more turnovers (five per game) than assists, and uninspired defense. Curry understands he needs to do more, as he showed in explaining his poor Game 3 performance.

“I’m disappointed that I didn’t do anything to help my team win tonight,” Curry said. “It’s not about living up to a certain expectation other than the one that I have for myself, and I haven’t done that, or I didn’t do that tonight, and I’ve got to be better.”

Just as the Cavaliers turned things around, for Curry things need to start one the defensive end, where you can be sure Cleveland will go right at him again.

“Just in the first half I had a couple lapses where I didn’t follow the game plan, and Kyrie (Irving) gets an easy lay-up, gets his confidence going, a couple of switches where I didn’t hear the guy behind me talking and being quicker with my reads in that situation,” Curry said. “So I obviously take the blame for that.“

Curry and Thompson did step up against Oklahoma City when needed, hitting ridiculous shots that sparked runs even that long and athletic defense could do nothing about.

Golden State needs one of those performances in Game 4 from their MVP.

If not, the former MVP and still all-time great player wearing wine and gold could take over again and change the course of the series.