The Cleveland Cavaliers, staring a 3-0 hole right in the eye, had their best and most important performance of the season Wednesday, beating Golden State, 120-90, in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
The last time Cleveland hosted Golden State, the Warriors led by 41 points and won by 34. This time? Just the opposite.
And the Cavs kept their season alive in the process.
“I think the feel was one of a team that was up against a sense of desperation, and I think the Cavs played and performed accordingly,” CBSSports.com NBA insider Ken Berger said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “They came out with the right type of aggression, especially on the defensive end. Sometimes your defense looks a whole lot better when Kyrie Irving is making shots like that, but I think regardless of that, they came out with a very physical presence, with a force defensively that really dictated the tempo and the tone of the game. That’s something they had not done at all in the first two games in Oakland. Much different story in Game 3.”
Part of that story, of course, was Kevin Love’s absence. He missed Game 3 with a concussion and may or may not be available Friday for Game 4. Even if Love is available, Tyronn Lue will have a tough choice to make: Does he go with what worked all season and start Love, or does he go with what worked in Game 3 and start Richard Jefferson?
“I argue that he should go with what worked in Game 3,” Berger said. “I think part of the defensive presence that the Cavs had and their ability to control the game from that standpoint had to do with having Richard Jefferson on the floor against the Warriors’ starters, instead of Kevin Love. I was told by someone on the Warriors’ side that they made a point on pick-and-roll switches every single time to find Kevin Love and attack him, and they weren’t able to do that when he wasn’t on the floor.”
Put another way, the Warriors wanted Love to play in Game 3.
“Kevin Love, he’s been in the league a long time,” Berger said. “He is who he is. I’m afraid that some people are going to take this the wrong way (and think) this means that the Cavs are better off without Kevin Love. No, but in a short series, in a seven-game series, sometimes you’re better off with the matchup that’s working, and if they can be better at the start of the game with Richard Jefferson on the floor and they can find a role for Kevin Love, if he’s cleared, to come in and make an impact offensively where they can hide him a little better on the defensive end, then that’s better for the team.”
Although Love, 27, signed a five-year $110 million contract last July, he could be on the move this offseason.
“I think that’s certainly something that has to be explored,” Berger said of potential trade opportunities. “The window is not going to be open forever for LeBron. This is 13 years now, and this is going to be transformational summer in the NBA. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities both in the free-agent market and trade-wise. A lot of teams have room. A lot of teams that wouldn’t necessarily be able to take Love’s salary in a trade will be able to do so, so I think you have to look at it. I caution people against the hot-take notion that because they won one game and Kevin Love didn’t play, (then) that means the Cavs are better off without Kevin Love. In this situation, they are. That doesn’t mean that the long-term future can’t work, but I think given the issues that he’s had trying to fit in with this group over the last couple of years, I think you definitely have to look at it.”