Aside from the sharpshooter going off, there were other factors at work in Golden State taking a 2-1 series lead.
Here are five takeaways from Game 3.
Rockets shoot themselves in foot
Houston have an extremely thing margin of error – if one at all – against Golden State, so they can’t fumble away opportunities like they did in Game 3. The Rockets shot just 13-of-27 in the restricted area and 4-of-9 on corner 3s. There were simply too many misses point-blank and while that 3-point shooting percentage isn’t bad, it’s not enough to beat the Warriors on their home floor.
There’s been a lot of focus on how much the Rockets have hunted Curry when they have the ball, but Golden State are using a similar tactic against James Harden. When Harden was the primary defender in Game 3, the Warriors shot 7-of-12, with Curry and Kevin Durant going 5-of-6. Durant in particular looked to attack whenever Harden was on him and that should continue to be a theme in the rest of the series.
Paul can’t help shoulder load
Houston have no chance in this series if Harden and Chris Paul are going to both have off-games at the same time. In Game 3, Paul was the worst of the two and never looked fully comfortable attacking the Warriors’ defence. There would be times he got by his defender and into the lane, only to get stuck and have to pass it out. He’s shooting just 40.4 per cent overall and 25.0 per cent from deep in the series.
Chris Paul can’t shake Kevon Looney (he’s been sensational in the first half) pic.twitter.com/riRd3HqoDm— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 21, 2018
Kevon makes Houston go Looney
He won’t get much attention because the score was so lopsided and he played just over 15 minutes, but Kevon Looney was an absolute force defensively in Game 3. He doesn’t offer much spacing or offence on the other end, but his length, athleticism and effort made it hard for Houston players to score in the paint. Looney finished with a defensive rating of 69.3 points for the game and has a mark of 88.4 for the series.
Turnovers are deadly
This isn’t exactly a revelation, but turning the ball over against Golden State is fatal. The Rockets experienced that first-hand when they lost possession 20 times, leading to 28 points for the Warriors. Dead-ball turnovers, like shot-clock violations, aren’t as killer as live-ball turnovers, but both kinds will obviously hurt you, especially in an environment like Oracle Arena.
After failing to provide LeBron James with much help in the first two contests in Boston, the Cavaliers looked like a whole team again at Quicken Loans Arena as several members of the supporting cast provided valuable contributions.
While Cleveland’s offence responded with a strong effort which saw six players score in double figures and shoot 17-of-34 from long range, their cohesion was arguably more noticeable on the other end.
“Even when things broke down, we just covered for one another,” James said of the team defence. “We made them make extra passes. We made them make extra dribbles. We were flying around, and I just happened to be one of the guys on the floor that wanted to fly around as well.”
In Boston, the Celtics seemingly got any shot they wanted whenever they moved the ball, averaging 55.0 points in the paint and 101 uncontested shots in total in the wins.
The Cavaliers, however, offered much more resistance in Game 3, surrendering just 34 points in the paint and contesting 76 per cent of Boston’s shots, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
It was a flip from the first two games of the series, when the Celtics were the more physical team and made everything hard fro Cleveland.
“Just the physicality. Not letting them be comfortable, communicating on screens, things like that,” George Hill said.
“From Game 1 and 2 to Game 3, what we did better was when guys did make mistakes, we had teammates there. That extra effort and energy wasn’t there in Game 1 and 2. It cost us a lot of wide-open 3s, and I don’t think they got a lot of those today.”
Cleveland were clearly the more desperate team as they brought their best to avoid falling into an insurmountable 3-0 hole, but Boston had the look of a side that had become too comfortable after holding serve at home.
Celtics guard Terry Rozier said as much, stating: “We needed to get our butts whooped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”
He added: “I feel like we needed this to get us back, to get us ready for Monday.”
Boston, who have been a different team on the road than at home in these playoffs, will try to win just their second game in hostile territory in Game 4 on Monday (UAE: 04:00 +1).
After looking outmatched in the first two contests in Boston, the Cavaliers resembled a different team on their home floor.
Here are five takeways from their impressive Game 3 victory.
Non-LeBron Cavaliers step up
In Game 2, LeBron James had a 42-point triple double and the Cavaliers lost by 13. In Game 3, James had 27 and Cleveland won by 30. It’s not mystery what changed when the Cavaliers returned home. The non-LeBron supporting cast rose to the occasion and outscored the Celtics 89-86, with seven players contributing at least eight points. As great as LeBron is, he can’t do it alone, so this type of balance is essential.
Difference in urgency
Whether it was the change in venue or the Cavaliers desperate to avoid a 3-0 series hole, Cleveland was clearly the more energetic team in Game 3. While Boston’s defensive intensity waned, the Cavaliers showed life on that end – especially LeBron – and were the aggressors all night. Getting into their half-court offence and running sets with greater pace may seem like a small detail, but it made all the difference for Cleveland.
LeBron's energy on defense was on a different level. Cavs also got into their offense earlier (at times), even off Boston makes. Just a better game. Difference b/w stagnant CLE and good CLE -- beyond making shots -- isn't rocket science.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 20, 2018
Thompson neutralises Horford
Tristan Thompson has a history of giving Al Horford problems and that match-up is once again tilting towards the Cavaliers favour in this series. Horford registered zero shots in the 31 possessions he was defended by Thompson in Game 3 – he drew a shooting foul and hit both free throws – and has now scored all of nine points for the series in 87 such possessions. Boston need Horford to be aggressive, but the Thompson effect is very real.
Brown fails to get going
Jaylen Brown has been a good barometer for the Celtics’ success in the playoffs, especially through three games in the conference finals. After dropping 23 points in each of the first two contests, he was held to just 10 in Game 3 and struggled with foul trouble. Cleveland clearly made it a point to limit Brown in the first quarter after he averaged 13.5 points in the first period in Boston, and the Celtics’ wing finished with one of his poorest performances in these playoffs.
Ty Lue said the Cavs shifted their defensive focus to slow Jaylen Brown in the first quarter.— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) May 20, 2018
Cleveland’s 3-ball connects
Sometimes, it’s as simple as making shots. More than that obviously went into the Cavaliers’ Game 3 win, but their 3-point shooting turnaround was crucial. After hitting just 24.6 per cent of their 3s in Boston, Cleveland hit 17-of-34 triples at home. They also made 25-of-46 uncontested looks, compared to 35-of-99 in the first two games. A positive regression was expected, but if the Cavaliers shoot like this, watch out.