Cleveland holds off Warriors, follows LeBron James to a 2-1 NBA Finals lead

Ball Don't Lie

The easy script for these suddenly plucky Cleveland Cavaliers continues to roll on. Initially pitched as a star-heavy team full of well-heeled All-Stars, the Cavs are playing their best defense of the season, and they’ve taken a 2-1 advantage in the 2015 NBA Finals. The Cavs downed Golden State 96-91 in Game 3 behind another near-triple-double from LeBron James, and several key plays from the irascible Matthew Dellavedova.

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The Cavaliers point guard, only starting because of Kyrie Irving’s season-ending knee injury, made a three-point play with just over 2:30 left to quell a Golden State comeback. Directly following a Stephen Curry 3-pointer that cut the Cavaliers' lead to one, Dellavedova hit a crouching, scrambling – cramblin’ – runner in the lane that drew a foul on the NBA's MVP. A series of dives to the floor in pursuit of loose balls in the minutes that followed only added to the legend.

Dellavedova finished with 20 points in the win, turning the ball over just twice while playing standout defense on Curry yet again. It was the threat of James, however, that gave Cleveland the series lead.

LeBron once again worked his way toward a standout box score line. He sat just two minutes in the win, tossed in 40 points on 14-of-34 shooting, added eight assists, 12 rebounds, four steals and two blocks. James also altered a series of shots in the paint as Golden State failed to execute its previously prolific offense yet again.

For a while, it looked as if Golden State was well on its way to a blowout loss that it deserved just as much as Cleveland earned.

The Cavaliers played fantastic defense for most of the contest, taking a 22-point lead at one point during the third quarter prior to the W’s comeback. Golden State allowed Cleveland to dictate the terms of action, responding with slumped shoulders and half-hearted execution in the face of a Cavaliers team that was playing free and easy at home.

Curry may have ended his night with a 27 points on 50 percent shooting, but he missed all five of his first-half attempts after scoring the game's first field goal. He and backcourt mate Klay Thompson started the eventual loss with a combined 4-of-16 mark from the field, and the pair’s body language could not have been worse.

The duo hardly had any help. Harrison Barnes missed all eight of his shots in a tentative performance. Centers Andrew Bogut (who even hit a right-handed shot!) and Festus Ezili combined to shoot 4-of-9, not terrible, but not the sort of mark you’d expect from a pair that were afforded several good chances to pounce by the Cavaliers defense. Forward Draymond Green was clearly pained by a back injury, but the Warriors were just as pained with his shot selection and lacking 2-of-10 mark from the floor.

It took the re-emergence of David Lee, the Warriors’ highest-paid player, to somehow turn this contest around.

Lee had played just 68 postseason minutes heading into Game 3, and not a single drop of Finals time in the two previous games, and yet his all-around offensive abilities helped open up the floor for a W’s team that heretofore was turning in a somewhat shameful run of basketball. Lee’s help defense still remains rather putrid, but his ability to pass and finish helped elevate a previous moribund GSW squad – he finished with 11 points and two assists in 14 minutes and was a team-high plus-14 from the floor.

His presence helped spark a W’s comeback that was mostly spearheaded by Curry’s 17 fourth-quarter points. Golden State played without reflex and dove into sets with alacrity, a clear turnabout from the dull and uninspired play that marked the team’s first 36 minutes of action.

"I just thought [Stephen Curry] lost a little energy and life. We need life and emotion from everybody," Warriors coach Steve Kerr pointed out after the loss. "I thought in the third quarter we were hanging our heads a bit. It was good to bring the fight in the fourth."

Dellavedova welcomed as much.

Seemingly sipping on an inexhaustible supply of energy, Dellavedova still managed to make life hellish for Curry while holding his own offensively. Not content to merely act as a stand-still 3-point shooter, the second-year guard ran a threatening screen-and-roll with James in the face of a Golden State team that was worried about LeBron’s ability to dominate by his lonesome. He routinely dove toward the floor for loose balls, sopping up minutes along the way for a Cleveland team that is down to a seven-man rotation.

"He plays as hard as he can every day,” Cavs coach David Blatt reminded after the game. “He plays right, he’s not afraid, he plays courageously."

“He’s been getting every loose ball in this series, and that’s something I have to change,” Draymond Green admitted. “He brings a spirit to the floor, he brings a toughness to the floor that that Cleveland needs.”

Dellavedova makes for a nice story, but, come on:

James sat for just 120 seconds in the win. He acted as the linchpin that Curry could not, drawing the Warriors defense into his range without forcing either passes or shots. He systematically devoured whatever lineup Golden State trotted out – a dive into Lee here, a roll against Green there, a pounce in Barnes’ mug just to be sure – while dominating yet again. His defense both on and off the ball was superb.

James sat for just 120 seconds in the win. He acted as the linchpin that Curry could not, drawing the Warriors defense into his range without forcing either passes or shots. He systematically devoured whatever lineup Golden State trotted out – a dive into David Lee here, a roll against Draymond Green there, a pounce in Harrison Barnes’ mug just to be sure – while dominating yet again. His defense both on and off the ball was superb.

He’s scored a record 123 points in three games to start these Finals. Yes, he’s averaged over 47 minutes per contest and, yes, he kind of has to take a lot of shots in order for his pack of wolves to survive, but that doesn’t take away from the brilliance. James is carrying this outfit to places it really shouldn’t be allowed to go, he’s relishing his role as both the underdog and alpha dog, and if he can somehow stay hydrated through Thursday, he’ll have a fantastic shot at putting his Cavaliers up 3-1.

The climb starts back at a 0-0 score in Game 4, though. The thought of that is enough for LeBron and Co. to become weary. Whatever the outcome in this series, they’re going to sleep well this summer. 

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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