Through three games of the NBA Finals, the Warriors have proven what everyone assumed heading into this season: They are a better team than the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even a midseason makeover for the Cavs couldn’t put them in the same class as Golden State. And while the series has been more exciting than most expected headed in, the Dubs are still well on their way to their third championship in four seasons. While the series lacks unpredictability, Friday’s contest won’t be bereft of storylines. Here are the biggest questions headed into Game 4.
Can the Cavs Hit Their Threes?
Cleveland won Game 4 against Golden State last year largely because of a historic night from behind the three-point line. The Cavs have shot only 29.5% from beyond the arc during this series, missing a fair amount of good looks, or at least the same shots they were making at a slightly better rate against Toronto. This is really where it starts if Cleveland hopes to win a game this time around. If the Cavs can dominate from outside, that increases their margin of error against a Golden State team that has an offensive rating of 121.3 in the Finals.
It would be nice for Kyle Korver to get going, but the Warriors have done a great job of denying him open looks. J.R. Smith still has a green light, but he’s hit only six of his 20 threes in this series. Maybe Rodney Hood can build off of his mild success Wednesday and find his range in Game 4. Cleveland will have a tough time beating Golden State straight up; a three-point barrage could help tilt that math in its favor.
Will the Warriors Play With Focus?
So much of the Warriors’ success seemingly depends on if they decide to engage with their opponent during the first half or simply sleepwalk for the first 24 minutes. If Golden State is truly gunning for the sweep, it can throw a knockout blow at Cleveland early in the game with a committed performance from its four Hall-of-Famers.
We haven’t seen the Warriors string two truly great games together this postseason. They’ve been absurdly dominant for stretches, but also complacent for many a quarter. Friday night will be an opportunity for the Dubs to send a statement about exactly how much better they are than the Cavs. It will be somewhat interesting to see what the Warriors look like with a true killer instinct, or if they’re happy to close out the series at home.
Should we Answer Some Questions As If the Warriors Are Definitely Winning?
Yes. In that case…
Who Will Win Finals MVP?
Stephen Curry looked to be on his way to his first Finals MVP trophy after the first two games of the series, but Kevin Durant snatched control of that narrative after his stellar performance in Game 3. Both players were so-so for their standards in Game 1, while Curry had the more memorable night in Game 2. But Durant’s showing Wednesday was remarkable, and Curry submitted one of his worst games of the postseason. Finals MVP usually doesn’t matter much, but it’s an interesting case study for the Warriors.
On one hand, Steph is the indisputable engine for this team. His mere presence on the court makes playing offense so much easier for everyone else. Curry is the head of the snake, and Golden State can often survive his bad nights because he still commands so much attention. And yet, Durant is the better player in a vacuum, and he’s taken full advantage of the focus on Curry by putting up two straight high-scoring, efficient games. For the series, Durant is averaging 31.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. Curry is averaging 24.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 7.7 assists. If Curry comes out swinging in Game 4, it’s possible he’s making a play for that MVP trophy. It would be legitimately strange for the Warriors to go through this dynastic run with their most important player never winning Finals MVP. But perhaps it speaks to the team’s egalitarian style—and the reasoning for bringing in someone like Durant—if Curry were to fail to win for another year.
Will LeBron Average a Triple Double For the Second Straight Finals?
LeBron James needs 13 rebounds and eight assists in Game 4 if he wants to average a triple double in the Finals for the second straight time. James is always spectacular in elimination games, and a solid showing from him Friday night will spare him at least some of the annoying legacy chatter. This has been a slightly weird series for Bron. After Game 1, it really looked like he could make a case for Finals MVP himself even in a losing effort. He looked a little tired for stretches in Game 2, perhaps with some of the wind out of his sails after a devastating loss. In Game 3, his statline was absurd but it never felt like he controlled the game, especially when the Cavs looked like they had a chance to win during a tight fourth quarter.
It’s been written to death at this point, but there’s really nothing LeBron can do when short of a monumental game his team barely has a chance to win. So hopefully James just guns for the stats Friday night. He should eschew efficiency and strategy and just empty the clip. It may not necessarily result in a win, but it would be fun as hell to watch. LeBron shouldn’t even feel the need to play with desperation at this point. He should just make sure he leaves no doubt about who the most talented player on the floor is.
Is This LeBron’s Last Home Game in Cleveland?
This is really the biggest storyline headed into Game 4. Will LeBron in any way tip off that he’s leaving the Cavs? Now, James is certainly too smart to play his hand Friday night. And I genuinely believe LeBron hasn’t made up his mind on where he wants to play next season. But Cavs fans should definitely be extra appreciative, because there will be no shock this time if James decides to move on.
There are some signs to try to take note of. What tone will James strike in his postgame press conference? Will LeBron give answers that try to establish a narrative about how he feels about superteams? (If he’s hyping up the Warriors talent relentlessly, that could be a hint James believes he needs to form a superteam of his own.) And perhaps most importantly, how soon after the game will LeBron remove his jersey? It’s now an infamous clip, but James seemingly couldn’t get his jersey off fast enough after Cleveland lost to Boston in the 2010 playoffs. Would it really be surprising if we saw something similar? Of course, none of this matters if the Cavs somehow prevail. But the way the first three games have gone, it would be surprising if the Summer of LeBron didn’t start late Friday night.