2015 NBA Finals Game 4: Warriors @ Cavaliers

Iguodala (9) and the Warriors reestablished their sharpshooting ways and cruised to a Game 4 victory (AP Photo/Paul Sancya).

Iguodala (9) and the Warriors reestablished their sharpshooting ways and cruised to a Game 4 victory (AP Photo/Paul Sancya).

Smallball, huge payoff*

Few make adjustments as striking as do the Golden State Warriors. Had the team not done so four weeks ago, it might not have been in position to execute its most recent change.

Back in the Western Conference semi-finals in early May, the Warriors were in nearly the exact same spot as they were before Thursday night: down 2-1, playing Game 4 on the road, and increasingly faltering against their opponents after two straight losses. In response to their situation against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western semis, Steve Kerr and his coaching staff–likely the most talented surrounding group in the league–did not sit idly by as one of the best basketball teams in history lied on the brink of a premature playoff exit. Instead, they instituted a bold, unorthodox defensive strategy, a gamble under pressure. Ultimately, the adjustment helped win the Warriors Game 4 and then the series.

While the Finals iteration we saw on Thursday was not nearly as brazen as assigning Andrew Bogut to “guard” Tony Allen, sending out a smallball lineup against the Cavaliers, which matched Draymond Green against Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov as the only bigs, came close, and constituted a significant change nonetheless.

The decision to go small essentially centered on inserting Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup in place of center Andrew Bogut. Iguodala’s presence on the court has become a necessity for the Warriors, as the NBA veteran has gotten tasked this Finals with attempting to slow down LeBron James. Through the first three games, the matchup proved fruitful on Golden State’s end despite LeBron’s Finals record-shattering scoring peformances. As likely the best possible formula had been found to address the team’s toughest burden, the Dubs logically have done all in their power to maintain it in pushing Iguodala to a more prominent role–already seeing a minute increase each game, but this time going out with the starters. Yet this created a shift in defensive assignments all around, leaving a troubling big man (at least on one side) matchup: Thompson and Mozgov squaring up against Harrison Barnes and Green, respectively.

At the start, Cleveland seemed to have exploited almost every mismatch resulting from the Dubs lineup alteration. Through just over the first two minutes of play, the Cavs had jumped out to a 7-0 lead and already possessed a 5-1 rebounding edge. The two Cleveland big men dominated the smaller Warrior group, scoring four of the seven points, with Thompson easily snagging two offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions and Mozgov scoring quickly on Green in the post.

But after looking shaky at first and shrugging off some early shooting struggles, the Warriors smallball lineup exploited their end of lineup mismatches as well. Gradually finding a shooting groove as a result, the smaller group fed off efficient passing and better execution of good looks at the basket–a trend which would continue the rest of the night, and about which I will later go into more detail–to go ahead 22-20. A Cavs timeout at this point (3:57 first quarter) was noteworthy in that it meant Cleveland was the first to budge in this tilt of uneven lineups: David Blatt had replaced his center Mozgov with a shooter. By the end of the first quarter, the Warriors had a seven-point lead and somehow even attained a +2 margin on the boards, all the while seeing a critical boost in shooting with a .462 mark.

This first 12 minutes of action would be but a microcosm for the rest of the game, as Golden State’s small ball approach, having formed into an offensive cornerstone throughout the season, proved fundamental to swinging the series’s momentum back to the Dubs. With more wings and shooters on the court, the Warriors had several more shooting options and room to grow their characteristic offensive rhythm: an adjustment first made with only defensive circumstance in mind eventually reaped major offensive benefits. Reaching halftime after a Warriors run landed them a 54-42 lead, with the team netting six three’s and shooting .465, the direction of the game had become clear.

First half

Shot chart for Warriors (left half of court) and Cavaliers (right) at the half (ESPN Game Box Score)

The coaching staff’s change to the lineup, making the game’s flow more predicated on Warrior shooters and Cavalier bigs, helps explain the above shot distribution of both teams at the half (the shot chart at the end of game looks very similar to the one at the half, but the one seen here clarifies that the trend was in motion from the early-going).

With the entirety of Game 4 in view, it’s also worth particularly noting the play of and indispensable contributions by Iguodala on offense. In addition to his rangy and stellar defensive play–the main purpose behind slotting him into the lineup–that will be discussed shortly, he helped build the pace of the game up in getting out in transition and finishing with his patented ferocious, breakaway dunks. Moreover, as he settled in to the offense with a greater share of shooting, Iggy crucially knocked down four three-balls and scored 22 points on Thursday, totals only matched by superstar teammate Stephen Curry. Iguodala’s shooting effectiveness holds specific importance, as the Cavs must now must respect his jumpshot ability, rather than focus solely on the Splash Brothers as dangerous shooters. Iggy has seen several great looks these past games due to this opposing defensive approach, and the more he develops his shot the more havoc it will cause for Cleveland on defense.

Effect of smallball on Dubs defense:

The dominance by the Cavalier big men in the early stages, already an overwhelming force in the Finals with even Bogut involved, remained the primary offensive source for the team following the 7-0 run to commence the game. But not only did this disrupt Cleveland’s offensive habits that guided their prior success, but the corresponding shift in offensive reliance also fell right into place with what the Warriors wanted.

At the core of the smallball approach, as noted before, was a heightened attention towards the best basketball player on Earth in LeBron James. Throughout the night, Iguodala spearheaded this defensive focus once again and performed admirably in doing so, considering what he was going up against. Central to this effort, however, was much greater help defense from surrounding Golden State defenders, particularly when James drove to the hoop–where he’s done most of his damage compensating for an off jumper. This entailed both Warriors near the perimeter and the team’s larger on-court players moving closer to the rim once LeBron penetrated the paint, with Barnes and Green often in the mix.

Full game shot chart LeBron James (ESPN Game Box Score)

Full game shot chart LeBron James (ESPN Game Box Score)

By the end of the game, Golden State had come as close to neutralizing LeBron James as any other team, player, or strategy could. James had reached only 20 points on a rough 7-22 shooting night, far cry from his historic 41 PPG rate through the first three games. Moreover, LeBron found less success on drives and post-ups near the rim–unlike his usual attempts there that feels like a scoring certainty–and failed to convert from his go-to spot in the left block area near the paint.

Of course, with LeBron the focal point of Golden State’s defensive concerns it left plenty of offensive freedom and options for Mozgov and Thompson, who consequently dominated the paint and scoring production from start to finish for the Cavs. Moreover, it’s important to recognize how the Warriors smallball approach was at the root of this influence on Cleveland’s offense. In one of the defining statistics of Game 4, after averaging 23.3 minutes in the first three Finals games, Andrew Bogut played for a mere three on Thursday. First and foremost, this helps to understand the scoring rise of Mozgov and Thompson, feats effortlessly accomplished by the two, as the absence of Bogut at the center position granted many more facile opportunities and finishes near the rim.

(ESPN game box score and Basketball-Reference.com)

(ESPN game box score and Basketball-Reference.com)

The chart above further illustrates the scoring consistency by the Cleveland bigs–with the Warriors to some degree allowing them to find success across all quarters of play in not sending Bogut to guard the paint–and the huge jump in scoring production by the two relative to what they had seen on defense from Golden State previously: both players scored more than twice their averages for Games 1 through 3. The corresponding effect of lesser attention towards Mozgov/Thompson saw their star teammate in James sharply regress in Game 4, scoring slightly under half his average scoring output from the first three games, as he now bore the greater defensive focus–stemming directly from the Warriors smallball lineup change. Understandably, the Golden State was more than content with letting the Mozgov/Thompson pair dictate its team’s offensive direction, in place of LeBron doing so. Easy lay-ins and dunks by these big men looked worrisome on the surface, but in truth–and in the long run of Game 4–the result fell right in line with the intended impact Golden State and its coaching staff surely wished to have.

On the perimeter, Cleveland’s shooting crew–composed primarily of Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Matthew Dellavedova–went horribly cold in Game 4. At the end of the first half, the trio–dangerous for much of these playoffs from outside–made one shot apiece and collectively went 3-16, 1-11 from three. By the end of the game, the bleak output had fully materialized: Shumpert went 2-9 from the floor (1-5 on three-balls), Dellavedova had shot 3-14 (2-9), and most egregiously, Smith posted a 2-12 (0-8) debacle. The three had already been putting up mediocre shooting efforts–going a combined .333 and .326 from three through the first three Finals games–but on Thursday they plummeted to new depths. One could reasonably ascribe the decrease in efficiency by the Cavalier wings/shooters to the higher number of opposing defenders of equal stature. In another outgrowth of the smallball direction, four Warrior guards/wings on the floor for much of the time translated to greater defensive attention towards Cleveland players at the same position, albeit at the loss of interior defense with Bogut now out. But this still had the huge effect of mitigating yet another portion of the Cavs’ offensive arsenal.

Above all else, the persistence and faith displayed in maintaining the smallball lineup–even with initial failure–merits as much praise as the shrewdness shown by the Golden State coaches in executing this pivotal adjustment in the first place, which would ultimately win the Warriors Game 4.

Resurgence of Draymond Green

Green (23), seen celebrating here, rebounded from earlier troubles with great vigor in Game 4 (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images).

Green (23), seen celebrating here, rebounded from earlier troubles with great vigor in Game 4 (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images).

After languishing through the first three games of the Finals, Draymond Green bounced back from his unseemly play and reprised his role as the playmaking linchpin for the Golden State offense. For much of the time before Thursday night, Green represented the weak link on offense, and in a sense his owns troubles revealed his importance–when playing at his peak–to an optimally functioning Warrior attack. His valuable presence as a stretch four power forward was lost amid trouble with his jumpshot: his shooting touch was consistently off, and at some point he decided to not even threaten to shoot despite having great looks. However, his greatest difficulties came in attacking the basket, as the towering impenetrability of Mozgov and Thompson as rim protectors rendered his drives towards the hoop futile.

In one of the more understated Warrior adjustments in Game 4, Green noticeably modified his approach in this area of his offensive game. He continued to attack the rim on Thursday, but did so smartly. Rather than boldly going straight up against and into the Cavs’ big men bodies, which had largely returned stifled attempts for Green, the Golden State do-it-all forward refined his drives to where he managed to quickly create some space once in the restricted area. Achieving this by leaning his body out or slightly altering his path to the rim, Green gave himself more room to release a more accurate shot.

draymond green stats

ORtg: estimated points produced per 100 possessions, eFG%: shooting percentage that adjusts for the fact that 3-pointers are worth 1.5 times more than 2-pointers (Basketball-Reference.com)

As a result, the tweak helped him find more success in scoring at the rim, as seen with his field goal totals in the paint in Games 1-4 above, as well as made him more calculated in this territory and a better distributor. That his plus/minus numbers while on the court correlate with his team’s Finals victories further confirms his essential presence for Golden State.

Away from the basket, Green also improved upon his Games 2 and 3 performances with respect to his jumpshooting tendencies. Compared to these previous contests, Green showed less hesitancy in launching shots from the floor, but most importantly a greater willingness and confidence in pursuit of a proper shooting touch. At 6:05 in the second quarter, he drained a three from above the break–which came with space and time, a situation in which Green strangely fared poorly earlier in the series–and at the time gave the Warriors their largest lead of the game at 12. Though it was his sole deep ball on the night, it also marked only his second for the series and contributed to the broader process of the Warriors regaining their three-point sharpshooting identity (especially in capitalizing on good looks from outside). Additionally, Green also became more active within the Dubs’ offensive system, remaining decisive with his decision-making and firing sharp passes around the court.

Improved ball movement

Among several factors, stronger ball movement facilitated the return to proficiency for the Warriors throughout the night. Through better coordination among the players, in how passes shaped their offense and with both movement on and off the ball, and a more purposeful quality, in that the ball movement had a sense of direction and wasn’t just flung around, the Golden State offense fulfilled what was required of them in this department of the game: return to their exemplar, regular season character. In turn, more useful passes as well as better care with the ball fueled a scoring improvement on the last two losses:

passing

AST%: percentage of field goals that were assisted, AST/TO: number of assists for every turnover committed, AST Ratio: number of assists average per 100 possessions (NBA.com/Stats)

As had been the case with much of the team’s 2014/15 success, the offense revolved around productive ball movement and scoring emanated from passes that opened up space for great looks at the basket. This notion was reinforced with Golden State’s Finals wins correlating to greater AST%, AST/TO, and AST Ratio numbers than in their losses during the series.

The development of greater ball movement became no more apparent than in the fourth quarter as the Dubs began to pull away (+15 quarter margin). It pertained not so much to the sheer amount of passes getting thrown around on offense as it did to their incisive and swift quality. Golden State returned to its high-flying but productive style, in terms of promoting a fast pace but all the while feeding looks and taking drives to the hoop that opened up key space around the floor. The most emblematic of this rediscovered character occurred with Shaun Livingston’s feed–stemming from a quick passing buildup–to Iguodala for a three from the right corner at 7:22 to put the Dubs up 88-74.

Team-wide offensive upsurge 

Player tracking stats further convey the effect that better ball movement had on fostering better shot selection:

NBA.com/Stats

(NBA.com/Stats)

More constructive passing by the Warriors coincided with an uptick in, and assuredly played a part in producing, much better looks at the basket without so much interference from opposing defenders. The results by Golden State players on these type of shots also help understand the team’s shooting performance in Games 2 and 3: namely, that their losses came in large part because of their aberrant shooting. As I noted before, the Warriors’ horrid shooting display during their losses was bound to change as the series progressed, returning to their usual jumpshot standards. Notably, it was not as if Golden State had been completely squeezed out of any good looks at the basket. Rather, in addition to excellent, tight coverage defense from Cleveland, the Dubs had created quality shots and looks but simply weren’t making them, perhaps representative of an abnormally extensive off/cold shooting stretch. Game 4 thus showcased a return to the team’s typical shooting strength–an emphatic regression to the mean–in both the quality looks the Warriors derived but even more importantly the rates at which they converted them.

The below stats concerning key areas of offensive production–rates of shooting and scoring efficiency–lends insight into Golden State’s offensive recuperation more broadly:

NBA.com/Stats

TS%: shooting percentage adjusted to include value of three pointers and free throws, OffRtg: number of points scored per 100 possessions (NBA.com/Stats)

Across the board, the better offensive outputs correlate with Warrior victories, particularly with the Game 4 resurgence. The team found its groove from the floor in Games 1 and 4 and especially their deadly deep stroke (note that five fourth quarter three’s from Curry deceptively make the Game 3 totals looks adequate, when for the majority of the game they were not) unlike in the middle two contests, and the scoring on a per-possession basis further reveals a striking disparity in offensive efficiency–as if an entirely different Warrior team was playing on the court. Considering its regular season averages of 47.8 FG%, 39.8 3-PT FG%, 110.0 PPG, 57.1 TS%, and 109.7 OffRtg, Golden State simply looked much more like themselves on Thursday–a level at which it handily trumps any other team in the league, Cleveland included.

*UPDATE: When I often reference the smallball approach the Warriors implemented going into Game 4, I should clarify that I intended to discuss its effect beginning with the starting lineup but ultimately going beyond these group of five players. I say so because while the Curry-Thompson-Barnes-Iguodala-Green bunch played far and away the most minutes as a single unit–spending 14.4 minutes on the court, the next closest group at 4.4–they posted a paltry -1 plus-minus mark together. This should not discredit their impact, as though they did not perform so exceptionally, the unit did score 35 points on 12-26 shooting (5-15 on three’s), and more importantly, set the tone/laid the groundwork for a game-long smallball attack by Golden State. By that same +/- measure, however, backup point guard Shaun Livingston deserves greater commendation for his involvement on both ends of the court. On top of scoring seven points along with eight rebounds and four assists, Livingston accumulated an absurd +25 plus-minus total–seven more points than any other player on the court. Moreover, while he was on the floor, he was part of every single Warriors five-man lineup that reached a positive +/-, the highest of which was 10 playing alongside Curry, Green, Iguodala, and Thompson and all of which were smallball groups, doing so in only 24:30 of playing time. Again, Livingston and his effectiveness played into the broader success of Golden State’s smallball strategy that guided the brought a Game 4 victory–stemming not wholly from the smallball starting lineup itself, but more so from the precedent they set. 

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2015 NBA Finals Game 3: Warriors @ Cavaliers

The unlikely overpowering combination of Dellavedova (left) and James (right) have led the Cavs to two straight Finals wins (AP Photo/Tony Dejak).

The unlikely overpowering combination of Dellavedova (left) and James (right) have led the Cavs to two straight Finals wins (AP Photo/Tony Dejak).

Defending LeBron 

With LeBron James taking more and more of a responsibility on offense with each passing game, Golden State has concurrently devoted greater attention towards how to deal with the most unstoppable force in the NBA. To start, the Warriors slotted in Harrison Barnes to guard LeBron–the natural fit considering the starting lineup–and the results were disastrous. Twelve seconds into the game, James dismantled the small forward on the low block and turned around for any easy layup. The notion of a mismatch increasingly crystallized, as despite forcing a few unnecessary jumpshots, LeBron dominated Barnes in going 3-6 from the field and 3-5 near the rim.

However, that immediately changed upon Andre Iguodala’s entry into the game at 6:48 in the first quarter for Barnes. Finding the same success in this matchup as in the last two games, Iguodala effectively shut down James and importantly warded him off taking over offensive possessions. On the first possession since his arrival, Iggy induced a travel call on LeBron, after which James became much more passive on the court. When he returned to a dominant offensive role, James missed two shots in the paint and one from three-point territory while guarded by Iguodala for the remainder of the quarter. His passing became disrupted too, as LBJ commited a turnover and another errant pass that should have had the same result. In the one moment that a switch took Iggy of LeBron, James was able to hit a driving layup while guarded by Draymond Green in the early second.

On the other end of the court, Iguodala complemented his excellent defense with key offensive contributions. Through the 19 first half minutes he logged in–second highest on the team–Iggy led the Warriors in scoring with 10 and chipped in four assists and four rebounds to complete the all-around effort. A few vicious dunks and passes that led to makes for teammates helped Golden State stay afloat on offense during the first 24 minutes.

Yet the initially suffocating defensive approach did not deter LBJ from resuming his scoring output. First drawing a shooting foul on Iggy in the high paint area, LeBron ferociously blew by Iguodala shortly after for a dunk. James continued to attack with aggression and as a result found a way to shed his defender Iguodala on these drives to the rim. It no longer seemed that Iggy alone could stymie LeBron, raising the question and necessity for greater help defense entering the next quarter. At the end of the half, James still struggled with his shot on 6-17 shooting, but managed 13 points and ended a rebound shy of a double-double, along with three assists.

Third quarter shot chart for LeBron James (ESPN Box Score).

Third quarter shot chart for LeBron James (two made FTs at 0:42 not included) (ESPN Box Score).

On Cleveland’s first possession of the third quarter, Draymond Green opened as the defender on LeBron, which translated to a blazing drive and finish at the rim that left Green in the dust. Later, in addition to mainly sticking Iguodala on him, the Dubs also experimented with Shaun Livingston on LeBron, which at one point created a short fallaway jumper for James that dropped through the net. Unlike the last two quarters, the third one hardly brought the same success for Golden State in limiting James. As a part of a broader 28-point explosion and crowd-galvanizing 12 minutes of play, LeBron rocketed to 13 points, doubling his scoring production for the game, and added three assists which all resulted in three long-range makes and thus an extra nine points.

Sloppiness then defined James’s early performance in the fourth quarter. Perhaps complacent with a 17-point lead–minutes after a 20-point edge, the largest in the series–LeBron committed two turnovers and a foul, as well as posted a 1-4 shooting mark and a missed free throw. In part, this momentary dropoff allowed the Warriors to storm back in the game. Yet it was short-lived, as James returned to dominance and carried the Cavs on his back–perhaps the most operative use of this worn-out sports cliche–to a 2-1 series lead. As the Dubs began to close in on Cleveland’s lead in the final minutes, LeBron brought the ball up the court, used a Tristan Thompson screen to create some separation, and hit a three-point dagger in the face of Iguodala off the left wing. After extending the Cavs’ lead to seven with this shot, James proceeded to convert on all six of his free throw attempts under the one-minute mark–a late-game facet he’s often struggled with–in guiding his team to the 96-91 win. In either final end-of-game shots or during closeout stretches as with this situation, LeBron has cemented–especially in these last six Finals runs–time and time again his status as a premier clutch performer, a feat once many thought inconceivable for him.

Cleveland’s supporting cast

King James finished the contest with 40 points–setting the record for most points through the first three Finals games with 123–on 14-34 shooting and two assists away from a triple-double. But for not the offensive support of a few key members of his supporting cast and at crucial points in time, a Game 3 win would likely have been out of reach. First and foremost, grit-personified (he chases loose balls like he’s still playing on a 10-day contract) Matthew Dellavedova backed his Game 2 defensive masterpiece by going toe to toe with Stephen Curry on the offensive end Tuesday night. While erratic with five missed shots out of seven, the Australian instantly assumed an aggressive offensive disposition in the first quarter, netting four of his team’s first 10 points.

But his greatest damage would come later in the third quarter, during which he fueled a critical run–perhaps without it, Cleveland would not be able to stave a furious GSW comeback a quarter later. From 11:23 to 2:51 in the third, the Cavs fired off a 24-9 run–at one point a 12-0 stretch–to leap ahead 68-48. Dellavedova had a huge hand in this momentous surge, racking up 10 points that included two three-pointers, and furthermore assisted on a LeBron trey and 15-footer.

For a moment, Delly looked like he returned to a scrawny no-name player after getting his shot blocked by Leandro Barbosa, missing a 20-foot runner, and committing a foul all in the first 1:04 of the fourth, consequently getting yanked from the game. But after reentering as the fourth quarter wounded down, he provided us with perhaps his most remarkable play. With 2:45 left on the game clock, an increasingly hot-shooting Stephen Curry had just drained a three–with Dellavedova naturally right up against him–to cut the margin to 81-80, the closest since the early minutes of the second quarter. Then, as if he had the audacity to undertake a PG duel with the league MVP, an “anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better” shootout heretofore reserved for sparring NBA superstars, Delly, with the opposing floor general glued onto him, stumbled towards the free throw line area after a pass from LeBron, an inch or two from completely losing control of the ball, released a wild shove towards the basket that mildly resembled a basketball shot attempt. It, to the glee of a zealous Quicken Loans Arena, somehow banked off the backboard into the rim, and in the process Dellavedova drew a foul from behind off Curry. Video of the play shows even Delly himself, having ended up sprawled on his back, slightly shaking his head in disbelief–mirroring the reaction of every basketball fan watching. The inevitable converted free throw made it 84-80, and effectively impeded the fourth quarter Golden State comeback surge at its apex.

In total, Dellavedova scored a playoff-high of 20 and tacked on four rebounds and five assists. In addition, the point guard who has (almost) made Cleveland forget about Uncle Drew posted the highest plus minus (+13) of all players–outside of David Lee, who participated in a quick 13-minute Dubs burst–and only three players on the court played more minutes than he did. This may just be as incredible as it is unsustainable, but Dellavedova, even aside from his unwavering motor and yes, grit, has legitimately become one of the best two-way players in this Finals series.

Consistency, balance, and an essential three-point efficiency when playing on a team with LeBron (it does wonders for spacing) characterized the contributions by the rest of the supporting cast. By the end of the first half when the Cavs built up a 44-37 advantage, five different Cleveland players reached at least five points, four at least seven–and that’s with LeBron already at 13. James’s teammates in the backcourt and on the wing all developed a nice shooting touch far from the basket that continued throughout the game: J.R. Smith, James Jones, and Iman Shumpert collectively went 7-13 from the floor and most importantly hit five threes. Nearly all of the connections from deep also carried additional significance: either extending Cleveland’s lead beyond one or two possessions or facilitating game-changing runs. And that’s not to mention the game-to-game extraordinary work on the boards by Tristan Thompson, who has averaged 14.0 rebounds through three Finals games–almost seven more than the next closest Warriors player–and had a game-high 13 rebounds on Tuesday–four on offense, his lowest total this series but significant nonetheless–with 10 points.

Warriors’ shooting woes 

The biggest concern for Golden State heading into Game 3 was how to improve its shooting–particularly from three-point land–that dwindled so sharply in Game 2. Some regression to the mean would be in order as well, as the Dubs deviated heavily from their average shooting percentages as seen below:

(ESPN game box score)

(ESPN game box score)

But for however much creativity in developing their shot early on, the Warriors still could not regain their usually unparalleled shooting form. Screens around the perimeter, pull-up shots, switches by the defense that carved out space, or even relatively open looks did not return substantial gains. While Curry converted on a three within two minutes of the opening whistle, the MVP would not see another ball go down from long range for more than half an hour of playing time. The shot also marked the only three for the Dubs out of the seven taken in the first quarter, and 2-9 team shooting from beyond the arc in the subsequent quarter brought the overall three-point percentage to a miserable .188 mark. Four players took at least three attempts, and the Splash Brothers went a combined 1-7.

Led by Curry and Thompson, the Warriors started to show some signs of life from the floor in the third–somewhat of a harbinger of things to come–by going 2-4 from three. Yet the poor overall shooting was still there, and as a result Golden State could not keep up with Cleveland’s most formidable quarter of play that produced a +10 margin. As noted on the ABC Finals broadcast by Mike Breen, the Warriors failed to reach 60 points through three quarters for the second straight game, marking the only two times it occurred all season–a fact simply astounding, but perfectly representative of the hopeless stagnancy the Dubs had showcased the prior seven quarters.

Yet the tides soon changed: in what was at the same time an unprecedented development and eerily familiar of a team that once throttled everything in its path, Golden State emerged in the fourth quarter down 17 with its back against the wall, but revitalized. With Steve Kerr slotting in David Lee into the lineup to start the quarter–who provided a pivotal boost of energy and offensive resourcefulness in tallying nine points, four rebounds, and two assists after his entry–the Warriors jumped out on an 8-0 run sparked by two three’s in less that two minutes that cut the deficit to single-digits.

Of course what really catapulted the Dubs back into contention was the awakening of Stephen Curry. After adding a three and a few midrangers to raise his scoring total to 10 in the third quarter, the MVP looked like the Curry of old (i.e. before Game 2) in developing a hot three-point stroke. Here’s his offensive progression from quarter to quarter:

(ESPN game box score)

(ESPN game box score)

From the 7:24 mark in the fourth onward, Curry nearly stole Game 3 for Golden State in making five three-point jumpers, some within the Warriors offensive system and others in a stroke of individual brilliance, and knocked down three different shots during this span that brought his team one possession away from the Cavs. Apart from a Lee two-pointer with 40 seconds left, Curry was the only Dubs player to score in the final six minutes of play–take out Lee entirely and no other teammate recorded a point inside the nine-minute mark.

Curry (30) will look to get back on track for a full game on Thursday (AP Photo/Tony Dejak).

Curry (30) will look to get back on track for a full game on Thursday (AP Photo/Tony Dejak).

Yet for all of Curry’s efforts, the Warriors shooting machine–in the form of its key part–rumbled to life far too late on Tuesday. LeBron and Dellavedova did enough on the other end to negate Golden State’s offensive incursion, which had it fully developed perhaps a quarter earlier, might have tremendously affected the game’s result. But that doesn’t preclude an eventual full regression to the shooting mean for the Warriors. This series has at least two remaining games and at most four, and despite the extent to which the most recent events can cloud our vision, it’s almost a near certainty this team will soon return to its shooting prosperity. Cleveland deserves credit for its defensive approach to muck up and slow down the game, as well as tightly stick to and unsettle Warrior shooters. Still, Golden State has also uncharacteristically missed several open looks around the perimeter, exuding a sense of an “off touch” for the Splash Bros & Co. these last few games. Simply put, that this series is far from over is directly related to the fact that the Warriors are far from likely to stay this cold from the floor. Expect regression, and expect a team that has rightfully caught the fascination of the entire NBA community to fight back–much like they did in similar circumstances against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semi-finals a few weeks ago.

UPDATE: The legend of Dellavedova is blossoming before our own eyes.