Kyrie Irving gets redemption, and LeBron James gets some peace in Game 3


CLEVELAND — This was the exclamation point, the moment at which the Cavaliers tucked away Game 3 of the NBA Finals, sucking the wind out of the Warriors’ already fluttering sails: LeBron James made a steal on a pass from Stephen Curry, stumbled just beyond halfcourt, recovered the ball, fed to Kyr

ie Irving on the left wing and when Irving returned the favor with an ambitious, floating alley-oop pass, James leapt, his right arm fully cocked, and slammed the pass through.

That restored Cleveland’s 20-point lead with 2:49 to play in the third quarter and, at the same time, restored the vim and vigor that had been wrung from the Cavaliers in their first two blowout losses of the Finals in Oakland. The Cavs went on to win, 120-90, and dragged themselves back into the series.

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In the wake of last week’s Game 2 debacle, there was well-deserved hand-wringing about what could be done for the Cavs once the series turned to Cleveland. The team would be without Kevin Love, recovering from a concussion, and had all but been without Kyrie Irving in the first two games, in which Irving scored a combined 36 points but shot 33.3 percent from the field and had just five assists against six turnovers.

But Irving redeemed himself once back at home, finishing with 30 points on 12-for-25 shooting, and adding eight assists. This came after Smith explained that rather than pulling back and taking a less active role in the team’s offense despite his struggles, he would instead amp up the aggression.

“I’m not really good when I’m not being aggressive off the ball and not being able to get weak-side action and being ready to play on that weak side,” Irving said. “So, you know, there is a polar opposite between Game 1 and Game 2 in terms of trying to play in-between, and I can’t do that. I have to just have the mindset of continuing to be aggressive, and when I’m getting downhill, that’s when it will open opportunities for me to see passing lanes and opportunities.”

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It was a great overall performance from the Cavs’ starting five, as James finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Wayward shooter J.R. Smith rediscovered his stroke, after making just three shots in the first two games, finishing with 20 points. Center Tristan Thompson was more active and energetic, and his 13 rebounds (seven on the offensive end) were critical to the Cavs’ 51-32 dominance of the boards.

Despite some second-quarter resistance from the Warriors, the Cavs won the game in the first, which belonged entirely them. It was as though Cleveland was venting 96 minutes worth of frustration that had festered since last week’s Oakland misadventures.

Two minutes into the game, when Irving made a layup, the Cavs led, 6-0, matching the biggest lead they’ve had all series. When Irving drove the basket with 2:14 to play in the first quarter of Game 3 here at Quicken Loans Arena, he put the Cavaliers up by a surprising early margin, 25-10, and at the same time, gave Cleveland its highest scoring first quarter of this series.

By the end of the first, the Cavaliers led, 33-16, and had the defending champs on their heels. The Cavs shot a near-impossible 71.4 percent in the opening quarter, while nothing went right for Golden State, which shot 35.0 percent from the field and a mere 1-for-10 from the 3-point line. Making matters worse was the nasty charley horse suffered by Klay Thompson on a moving screen by Timofey Mozgov, which sent Thompson to the locker room for much of the quarter.

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And of some concern for the Warriors going forward, Thompson and Curry were again not quite themselves. Curry entered Game 3 averaging 14.5 points in the series, and Thompson 13.0, but those weak showings were overshadowed by the play of Shaun Livingston in Game 1 and Draymond Green in Game 2. In Game 3, when Golden State needed its Splash Brother stars, they did not answer the call—Thompson had 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting, and Curry was 6-for-13 for 19 points.

That was a noticeable question mark for the Warriors. Meanwhile, for the Cavs, it was all exclamation points.