By Adam Clements
Adam is a new site contributor at The Unsportsmen - You can follow Adam on Instagram for dope NBA content.
It was always going to take a giant effort to win Game 3 of the NBA Finals at the current Pantheon of sport in the San Francisco Bay Area at Oracle Arena. Most experts erred on the side of caution in which team they picked to takethe series lead at 2-1, which seemed a bit odd, as looking at the lineups it was obvious to see who should have the upper hand.
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Under normal circumstances if a team loses two of its superstars, they’re on a hiding to nothing and in no position to win a game at any stage of the season. When it comes to NBA Finals games, only one player in the league at the moment has been able to say he did it all on his own in The Finals. That man has been sipping red and watching from his LA home in his Gucci slippers since early April. I can picture LeBron James perched up in his Brentwood mansion, watching this game on his 4000 inch flat screen with a smile on his deeply furrowed face (I assume from all the wincing at his teammates atrocious play), watching Steph Curry try and shoot his team to victory against a much better opponent, having a career game but still coming up short. Something The King had become accustomed to with dragging a roster of deadbeats (read: JR Smith and definitely not our precious Delly) to The Finals 4 years in a row. Steph didn’t disappoint though, but the reality Curry faced, finally laid bare as the teams only option capable of making a shot outside of four feet, was extremely satisfying to watch as a neutral fan.
It reminded me of the Warriors I witnessed play in 2012 at The O, before The Warriors became The Warriors we know today. The one with Monta Ellis starting ahead of rookie Klay Thompson. 3 days after I watched that game in Oakland, Ellis was traded to the Bucks (for Andrew Bogut no less) and Thompson was pushed into a starting spot. My recollection of how the game played out is minimal, this was a Contiki tour after all (Editors note : Clemo is still getting over his 2012 Contiki hangover). Thompson has evolved to become not only one of the most durable, but also one of the best 2 way players in the league.
Thompson sat out game three due to his hamstring injury, something that hits close to home here at The Unsportsmen after our very own Thornberry Thumper, Tom A, The Unsportsmen’s courageously founder suffered a similar fate chasing a pickpocket in inner city Melbourne this week, reportedly with the same athleticism as ‘China-Klay’. The only thing criminal about this, however, was that people were still picking the Warriors to win this game despite the lack of Thompson or Kevin Durant in the lineup.
For the Warriors the path was clear, the mission parameters clearly defined, Curry locked in and went to work, putting up 12 of the Warriors first 14 points. It wasn’t so much the offense that hindered the Warriors at first, but their defense, as the Raptors ate the home team up inside the paint, driving with ease and somehow the Warriors fans were saying “WE NEED KEVON!”. Yes that’s Kevon with an O, a man who averaged 6 points this season, not the REAL Kevin, the 2 time reigning Finals MVP that hasn’t played a minute since Round 2 of the playoffs. Now let me tell you, 6 points in an average 18 minutes when you’re 6 foot 10 inches tall with a 7’4” wingspan is not a flattering statistic, Kevon. How desperate must a team be when they are calling on a 2nd string center to save their season!? Full disclosure, he has been a key defensive tool in their second rotation, but this is the almighty, all conquering, high flying Warriors, not the grind it out, scrappy hustle play L.A. Clippers where Looney’s services would be much better applied.
Editors note: Think about this - Kevon Looney couldn’t play two seasons ago, he changed his diet and work out routine and turned himself in to a switchy defender with range out to 19 feet. Good for him. Ge the mid-level next year young fella.
It should come as no suprise that they key moment early in game three was a signature move by Kawhi Leonard, blowing by his defender from the left corner and run into the paint for a slam dunk on an and-one play, a vicious sight for Warriors fans. Not just because Kawhi’s knack for flashy play is about as good as my knack for missing Free Throws (impressive I know), but because for the first time since early in Round 3 of the playoffs, Kawhi was moving freely after a troublesome knee injury hampered him throughout the last fortnight. After playing so well that many were earmarking him as “MJ with braids”, the level of play that Kawhi may now reach is something we might not have seen from any player not named LeBron since His Airness (editors note: Slow down Clemo - Don’t fall victim to recency bias).
After two brutal classic encounters in Toronto, the first Finals game in Oakland this year was a lot more free flowing, and Pascal Siakam wasn’t the only one to cash in this time on the lack of defense, with solid contributions all around as 6 Raptors put up double digits in points and Danny Green found his rhythm for 6-10 3 pointers. Kyle Lowry redeemed himself for now, with 23 points and 9 assists, but let’s be honest, we all knows he’s going to do something else stupid in these Finals, as he threatened to in this game when he fouled 3 times in the first half after fouling out last game.
The ebb and flow of the game dictated that the Warriors were able to pull back in stretches, but they simply ran out of offense. Curry put up 47 points, his playoff career high, but the rest of his support cast, the Warriors ‘starting group’, if you can call it that right now, put up 36, and for a team that doesn’t pride itself on the presence of a killer 6th Man (such as Lou Williams), that doesn’t leave much imagination to how deep their bench is right now with such a depleted roster.
The Raptors simply do not fear the depleted Warriors, and the fearlessness in defense and attack was brutal, with Serge Ibaka notching up 6 blocks. Now, 2 of these were goaltends the referees missed but they were against an All-Star that joined a super team so I’m gonna let that fly, DeMarcus. They’re on the stat sheet and that’s that.
Now, the Raptors are 6-1 through their last 7 playoff games, and while this game wasn’t as captivating as game 1 and 2, it showed that the Raptors can take care if business on the road, in a game where everyone still doubted them despite their obvious advantage, at least on paper. It was a game that the Champion Warriors have come to relish to prove everyone wrong, but the momentum of this series just shifted, like money from the pocket of a Warriors part-owner who unwisely decided he’d push Kyle Lowry despite no provocation. 500,000 big ones and a 12 month ban.
Money well spent to watch your team lose.
Game 4 tip-off Saturday 11am AEST.
That’ll do me I’m off to practice my free throws.