The San Antonio Spurs gift-wrapped a game last night to the Cleveland Cavaliers and they could not even accept it. I equate that to playing my young nephew Jacob a game of one-on-one, when I do everything possible to let him score even lifting him towards the basket. I thought I was in the twilight zone last night. Game 3 took basketball back to when the basketball had no air and there was a peach basket. The Cavaliers are starting to look like the worst Finals team in history. The Pistons will be remembered more for losing to the Cavaliers than the Cavaliers will for being plain bad in this series.
There were 101 missed shots in this game including free throws (57-147 combined shooting from the field for both teams). I am sure all these basketball geniuses will say we saw great defense. Give me a break! I saw more wide-open bricks than contested shots. If the Spurs had played Phoenix, Utah, Golden State or even Memphis last night they would have lost by 10-plus points.
The Spurs’ Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Emanuel Ginobili was 13-41 and the Cavaliers still could not take advantage.
The Cavaliers are one of the worst shooting teams I have ever seen make it to the Finals. That does tell you a little about how mentally tough they are and that’s a good thing, I guess. The Cavaliers had a chance to blow this game wide open when Duncan picked up his third foul, but turnovers, defensive breakdowns and inept shooting cost them an eight-point lead late in the second quarter and that was the turning point in the game.
They could never seem to hit the big basket that would have propelled them to victory in the final minutes and now the broom has just entered the building.
Gregg Popovich again found a way to secure a victory. He realized the Big Three was struggling and gave solid minutes to Brent Barry. He produced with three shots from beyond the arc. I have not seen much stress on his face the entire series. He did not panic late in the game when LeBron got Cleveland within 2 by calling a time-out. And because of it Tony Parker hit a huge three-point shot. His biggest challenge now will be keeping his team focused and not allowing Cleveland to stretch this series to a fifth game.
Mike Brown coached his best game last night. He did not get the production from Daniel Gibson that he was expecting, but I applaud him for making the change. He probably should have taken Drew Gooden out of the game with five fouls because that would have been him with the ball late instead of Anderson Varejao. I know he tried to call a time-out on that last possession, but the official should have been alerted to look at the bench before the possession. He must now convince his team to take one game at a time and not look at the big picture of being down 0-3.
Tony Parker did not have his usual dominant game, but still was a huge factor with key baskets when the Spurs needed them. That last three he hit to put the Spurs up by 5 was the final nail to him being MVP in the series if the Spurs win the championship.
Manu Ginobili proved to me again last night why I can never put him in any star category. He has far too many games where he just disappears. To Cleveland’s credit they have kept him on the perimeter, but he basically took the night off.
Tim Duncan was effective early, but foul trouble knocked him off stride and could not regain any kind of rhythm offensively. Zydrunas Ilgauskas and company did their best defensive job on Duncan and still could not get a win.
Brent Barry was huge. He hit a big three before the half to stop a big Cleveland run and he knocked down a few more to keep them at arms length in the second half.
Bruce Bowen was the hero of the game for the Spurs. His scoring outburst in the first half kept the Spurs close and his rebounding and defense were the difference in the Spurs’ Game 3 win. Although hated by 29 teams, Bowen would be welcome anywhere in the league. His shooting during the playoffs behind the arc has been incredible.
LeBron James made a cardinal sin at the end of Game 3 and this is why at 22 he has a long way to go if he wants to be compared to Michael Jordan. MJ or any other great offensive player would have never given up their dribble and passed the ball to Varejao, a player that has no clue what he is going to do with the ball in that situation. He had a mid-range shot to tie the game. Bowen was playing loose defense, but James’ confidence level is at rock bottom when it comes to taking that mid-range shot. Why? Because he has not made a single mid-range shot in the entire series (0-18) and worst yet James has made only two jump shots in the series out of 60 field-goal attempts and both of those shots were three-point shots late in Game 1. So bottom line, pretty much every basket James has scored has been a layup. He will have to soften that defense like he did in Game 5 of the Pistons series if the Cavaliers have any chance of extending this series. And right now, I think we can surmise he is due big time.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas finally joined the party and played very well. 12 points and 18 rebounds were very impressive, but you like to see him get to the free throw more than once. The Cavaliers will need this same effort again in Game 4, especially on the defensive end.
Drew Gooden has to stay out of foul trouble. The Cavaliers need him on the floor in crunch time, because he might be their most confident player shooting the ball other than Gibson. 12 points and 13 rebounds were huge, but silly fouls in the third quarter cost him a chance to be a hero.
Donyell Marshall, will you please give the Cavaliers something? It is not fair that so much pressure is being placed on the rookie Gibson and you are not giving them anything. Marshall looks old and slow when he is not taking and making shots, but all of sudden gets younger with energy when he makes a couple. Marshall could be the difference in Game 4 if he does not base his performance on making a three-point shot.
The Spurs smell blood and will play the first quarter like they are down 0-3. We saw the same look in Game 5 of the Utah series and they took them apart. Popovich will let them know that lady luck will not continue to shine on them if they get lackadaisical in Game 4. The series can change quickly if Cleveland somehow gets back in rhythm. Duncan will be the focal point again, but Popovich knows very well Ginobili can’t have another meltdown as he sometimes does.
The Cavaliers simply have to make some outside shots to open up driving lanes for LeBron. It’s amazing he has been able to score what he has without making a jumper, but he has not been the only one. The Cavaliers were 7 for 28 from mid-range in Game 3 and did worse from behind the three-point arc: 3 for 19. If the Cavaliers are making shots, they are due to win a game. They have given the Spurs all they can handle in the paint and being at home should allow this trend to continue. They were a plus-8 on offensive rebounds and if they can somehow get the rebound and then actually put it in the basket, they might have a chance to send this series to a Game 5.
(Did Bowen foul James? Yes and he did it twice, but I applaud James for not complaining about it following the game. That’s why we want to see him succeed. His maturity level is that of a 10-year veteran).