By Todd O’Neill

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight.

You lose by 33, as the Cavs did, you win the next by 30.

Kevin Love gets a concussion 72 hours before tipoff that benches him for Game 3, and the Warriors stagger out of Quicken Loans Arena with a headache.

J.R. Smith hit a shot, and then, Smith hit another shot. It just doesn’t make sense.

The real mystery isn’t about the extreme turnaround that happened last night when Cleveland sucker punched a Warriors team labeled “soft” by their coach, Steve Kerr.

Instead, unanimous MVP Stephen Curry has become a ghost in this series.

As in, has anyone seen him?

While Cavs coach Tyronn Lue must weigh the benefit of bringing Love back into the mix and potentially destroying the matchup advantage the Cavs enjoyed without him in their 120-90 win, Kerr and the Warriors must resolve Curry.

He was missing in the figurative sense in Game 3, and really for the entire series so far. Taking it a step further, in nine Finals games dating back to last summer, Curry has yet to unleash a volcanic effort, the kind that repeatedly defined his historic season and elevated the Warriors into super team territory. He knows and they know.

“I have to play 100 times better,” Curry (above) admitted. “I didn’t play my game. I’m disappointed I didn’t help my team win.”

Curry was yanked and had to answer to Kerr on the bench. Imagine that: During a championship game, a player of Curry’s level required a lecture — nothing angry, but still — and a wakeup call from the coach. That rarely happens this time of year to franchise players, and almost never to Curry any time of year.

“I would’ve done the same thing,” said Curry. “He’s trying to figure some life and a way to get me going.”

It was that type of game, and really that kind of series so far for Curry. He sleepwalked through much of the first half, didn’t score his first basket until four minutes before the break, suffered whiplash on backdoor cuts by Kyrie Irving and lost control of the ball three times in the game’s first five minutes. With Curry trapped in the kind of fog that swallows the Bay Area during morning rush, the Cavs seized advantage and raced to a sizable lead they would keep until the buzzer.

His matchup with Irving would seemingly give him the upper hand, mainly because of Irving’s reputation as a weak defender. Instead, Irving ripped through Curry for 16 points in the first quarter while Curry replied with astonishing passivity and only five first-half shots. He looked, dare we say, timid? It was an odd performance by Curry on both ends which cost the Warriors, who take their cue from him, precious energy if not the game.

“I had a couple of lapses where I didn’t follow the game plan, and Kyrie gets an easy layup, gets his confidence going,” he said. “I take the blame for that.”

Curry has 48 points in these three games. He didn’t score less than 50 in three straight games all season. The drastic offensive drop-off from then to now seems curious if not startling.

Is Curry still feeling the ripple effects of the right knee sprain he suffered April 24? Well, he did score 40 points upon returning from that injury and has averaged roughly 35 minutes since then, which tends to throw a spear into that belief.

“I’m fine,” he said.

A one-game funk could be dismissed as one-of-those-things. Two games? Not cause for alarm, but freaky for him. Now it’s three straight and it has the makings of a trend. It’s not merely the inefficiency with the ball, it’s also the manner in which Curry has made mistakes. He just seems in a slumber.

“I’ve got to be more assertive in my scoring and playmaking on the floor,” he said. “There’s a sense of urgency knowing how big Game 4 is, and I need to be ready.”

He’s averaging just over 16 points against the Cavs, a dozen below his average from the Western Conference finals and 14 below his regular season average. He’s also shooting 44 percent overall and 40 percent from deep, also below his norm. He’s had company; Klay Thompson scored just 10 points Wednesday and is also checking in below average for the series, and these two guards generate the most points and create open shots for others. You can understand why Kerr is scratching his head.

“Didn’t matter the first two games because other guys scored and we’ve got lots of good offensive possessions,” said Kerr. “Tonight, obviously, it did matter. We didn’t get a lot of great looks for them.”

Last summer Curry had a strange series against the Cavs. He averaged 26 points but shot only 44 percent, low for him, and for two games Cavs backup Matthew Dellavedova made a name for himself at Curry’s expense. After the Warriors fell behind 2-1, they flipped the series in their favor not mainly because of Curry, butAndre Iguodala, who won Finals MVP.

This season Curry established himself as the face of the NBA (although LeBron James might object) but ankle and knee issues interrupted his postseason. Still, he finished strong against Russell Westbrook and OKC, with 31, 31 and 36 points to close out that comeback series, and entered the Finals feeling and looking fresh.

Kerr had warned against any thoughts of series-over after the Warriors blasted the Cavs in the first two games, and in hindsight looked wise in doing so. In Game 3 Irving jump-started his confidence against Curry with 30 points, Smith finally hit shots from deep and managed his first 20-point game in nine chances dating back to last year’s Finals, and LeBron was LeBron. They did this without Love, and Lue was coy about how he’ll use Love in Game 4. On and on this weird series goes. Where it stops? Nobody knows, should the resurgent Cavs run their undefeated home playoff streak to nine on Friday and knot it up.

“The goal is to win one when you come on the road,” said Draymond Green. “We still have an opportunity to do that, so that’ll be our focus.”

About admin

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply