Was it ever really in doubt?
2:48 remained in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Steph Curry had missed his first nine 3-point attempts and Klay Thompson had been struggling all night, yet the Warriors held a one-point lead over Cleveland.
Kevin Love drove to the basket with an opportunity to give the Cavs, who led by as many as 13 in the game, a one-point lead. Before Love could get a shot up, he was met by Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Then it happened…
When Green found Curry in transition, Rodney Hood faced a tough predicament on defence: leave Curry to prevent Klay Thompson (who was 4-for-11) from a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer in the corner, or stick with Curry to prevent a pull-up 3.
Hood decided to stunt at Curry on the left wing to both discourage a shot and get out to Klay, failing to realize JR Smith had already sprinted out to find him in the corner. As he attempted to recover, Hood made a late contest on Curry's wide-open 3-pointer. Too late.
With any other player, Hood's decision wouldn't have been as risky. But Steph Curry is nothing close to any other player.
Curry, the greatest shooter this league has seen, stopped on a dime, used a behind-the-back crossover dribble to gather himself and knocked down a transition 3-pointer as if it were a breakaway layup.
For Curry, it is a breakaway layup.
Though he began the game 0-for-9 from deep, most everyone watching knew Curry's 3-pointer at the 2:40 mark in the fourth quarter was going in. If by chance Curry were to miss 10 straight 3-pointers, he's still a threat to knock down the next 10.
As was the case in Game 3, most shots Curry makes to break out of a slump come at crucial moments.
On the next possession, LeBron James sank a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one again, but as Green said earlier in the postseason, Curry's 3-pointers have a similar impact as big dunks. The Cavs could no longer count on Curry's shooting woes to continue and their chances to win Game 3 dwindled down the stretch.
It's not just Curry, either. Each of the Warriors four All-Stars have knocked down timely shots in the midst of rough shooting nights this series.
Thompson, who was relatively quiet throughout Game 3, knocked down a transition 3-pointer from the opposite corner in the third quarter to give the Warriors a three-point lead.
The situation nearly mirrored the play from late in the fourth except, in this case, George Hill did not quite commit to Curry or Thompson, resulting in the 3-pointer. This play likely influenced the way in which Hood would play transition defence later on.
Throughout the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets almost dared Green to shoot, seemingly living with him getting quality looks. He finished the series shooting 2-for-17, but one of his two makes cut the Warriors deficit to one late in Game 5. He entered The Finals having missed six consecutive 3-pointers.
In Game 1 against Cleveland, the total reached nine, as Green missed his first three 3-point attempts. Things changed when he sank a 3-pointer with 5:09 remaining in regulation, giving the Warriors a three-point lead.
For good measure, Green knocked down another 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 1:35 remaining in overtime. The All-Star forward's shot put Golden State up by 10 - the margin it would go on to win by.
These big shots aren't exclusive to the second half. Before getting back on track in Games 2 and 3, Kevin Durant finished Game 1 shooting 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. His one make? A 3-pointer at the 2:16 mark of the second quarter during a 16-5 run by the Warriors.
Golden State used its late second-quarter run in Game 1 to tie things up at the half, a great spot to be for a team known to dominate the third frame.
The Warriors' ability to break out of slumps in this fashion is part of what makes this team so scary. It's why LeBron James has acknowledged the ridiculously low margin of error when facing Golden State. Just when you think there's an advantage…it's gone.
The four All-Stars aren't the only ones that make such shots - David West's only 3-pointer of the postseason gave the team a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter of a blowout Game 2 win. At this point, you expect the team to knock down every big shot. It's never really a surprise, and it's never really in doubt.
As the Cavs face elimination in Game 4, they must play a near-perfect game to send the series back to Oakland. It still might not be enough, because Golden State always seems to find a way - even when everything seems to be going wrong.
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