CLEVELAND: Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith found the scoring touch they had been lacking in the NBA Finals and as a result, the Cleveland Cavaliers finally look like a championship threat.
Irving scored 30 points and passed off a game-high eight assists while Smith made 5-of-10 3-pointers on his way to 20 points. Tristan Thompson contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) in a 120-90 rout of defending champion Golden State.“I can’t play indecisive, just constantly in attack mode,” Irving said. “I know my teammates consistently want me to do that.”
The victory lifted the Cavaliers within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series with game four on Friday in Cleveland, which has not seen a sports champion since the 1964 NFL Browns.
LeBron James gave another virtuoso effort with 32 points, 11 rebounds and six assists for the Cavaliers, who were without forward Kevin Love, sidelined by a concussion suffered in a game two loss last Sunday.
Aggressive defense sparked scoring for the Cavs, who netted 34 points off 18 Golden State turnovers. Cleveland never trailed, jumping ahead 9-0, 19-4 and 33-14 in the first quarter, with Irving scoring 16 points in the opening period.
“Kyrie setting the tone early offensively really gave us confidence,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We got the ball up the floor with great pace. He was able to attack in transition. No one can stop Kyrie one-on-one.”
Added James: “He’s a special kid and we need him to be special throughout this series.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Irving’s effort after producing only 10 points in a game two loss was symbolic of Cleveland’s entire energetic fightback.
“He was just really aggressive,” Kerr said. “He had a couple of tough games and I thought his play mirrored their team’s play. They bounced back and played a fantastic game and Kyrie played a great game.”
Smith, who went a combined 3-of-9 for eight points in the first two games, opened space for Australian-born Irving and James with his hot outside shooting, spreading Golden State defenders.
“It means a lot,” Lue said. “When he’s making those shots, it really opens up the paint for LeBron and Kyrie and those guys to have space around the rim.”
Smith said he didn’t have to forget poor efforts from the first two games.
“It really doesn’t do much to my confidence,” Smith said. “I let that side of my brain turn off.”
Thompson contributed inside scoring in addition to his usual solid rebounding.
“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” Lue said. “His toughness, his versatility defensively, his offensive rebounding ability and he just puts a lot of pressure on teams. He brought a lot of energy and a lot of toughness.”
Richard Jefferson, who turns 36 later this month, replaced Love in the starting lineup, his first opening tip on the court in an NBA Finals since 2003, when James was still a teen prep prodigy.
Jefferson had nine points and eight rebounds after taking extra inspiration from a pre-game huddle in which James told his teammates to “Follow my lead.”
“When he said that, I knew what he meant. We’ve been doing it all year,” Jefferson said. “Every team he has been on has followed his lead. He did a great job in leading us to victory.”