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What Will It Take for the Cavaliers to Avoid a Sweep?

Cleveland fell into the jaws of defeat yet again, and LeBron and Co. head into Game 4 with impossible odds of winning a championship. Here’s what the Cavs need from their players.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Ironically, J.R. Smith was the first Cavalier to realize that Game 3 was over. Switched onto Kevin Durant with less than a minute left, Smith barely had time to extend his left arm to challenge before Durant got the shot up, a ballistic missile from 33 feet out. It was the straw that broke the Cavalier’s back: KD’s sixth 3 pushed the Warriors ahead two possessions. There wasn’t enough time or momentum for the home team; Cleveland fell, 110-102. Just like a postseason ago, LeBron is down 3-0 in the Finals to Golden State.

The series opener was the game Cleveland deserved to steal. After an unfortunate series of events—starring an overturned charge call, George Hill’s missed free throw, and Smith’s haze—the Cavs walked away with nothing. Wednesday was shaping up to be their next-best shot. By halftime, Steph Curry and Draymond Green had three fouls apiece; it was Andre Iguodala’s first game back in more than two weeks; Curry and Klay Thompson totaled 21 points. Steph—the same Steph who made more 3s in a single Finals game than anyone else in history fewer than 72 hours ago—finished 1-for-10 from distance.

The Cavs also held predetermined advantage: The game was in Quicken Loans Arena for the first time this series. All playoffs long Cleveland has been significantly better from the perimeter when shooting on its home court (37 percent heading into Wednesday, as compared with 31 percent on the road). Yet, despite a hot start from 3 on Wednesday night, the team’s percentage from deep was worse than either of those averages. Now the Cavs find themselves in a do-or-die situation in Game 4, and Tyronn Lue is left looking for tweaks like spare change in the couch cushions. What can the Cavs hope for from their guys on Friday?

Kyle Korver

Korver does not fare well against the Warriors in the playoffs. The most that he’s scored in any single postseason outing against Golden State is eight points; he’s done that twice in his career. In games 1 and 2, Korver combined for four, and he scratched completely on Wednesday. So, he’s halfway to eight … for the series.

Korver is one of the best 3-point shooters in league history, but that distinction is nothing more than a cruel tease against the Warriors. He may be one of Cleveland’s best chances at going shot-for-shot against Steph and Klay, but because he has no chance of containing anyone on the other end, the Cavs can’t risk leaving him on the court. Lue allowed Korver fewer than 11 minutes in Game 3, most likely because of the arena he was in. No one feels that aforementioned stat about the Cavs’ shooting more than Korver: This postseason, he’s making 34.5 percent of his 3s on the road, and 53.1 percent in Cleveland.

Korver did what he was put on the floor to do in those 11 minutes, managing to get up four shots in limited time. (He missed all four.) If Cleveland has any hope of stealing a game, it needs its best shooter to contribute, even if it’s just in spot minutes. Lue has to find ways to get him open. When he does get going, so does the offense: Cleveland is 8-1 in the playoffs this season when Korver hits double figures.

Rodney Hood

Wednesday was the Rodney resurrection we’ve been waiting for since he refused to enter a playoff game a month ago.

Hood turned out to be worth the wait. Like teammate Jordan Clarkson, he created his own shots, and like Clarkson, he was unafraid to take them. Unlike Clarkson, he made them. Hood finished with 15 points (more than either Steph or Klay), six rebounds, and two blocks.

The easy takeaway is to simply play Hood—he totaled two minutes in games 1 and 2 combined—but dunking on Lue’s decision-making leading up to Wednesday night omits how poorly Cleveland’s new prince had performed up to that point. It was only last month that Hood seemed so unplayable that a reporter straight up asked Lue why he was even in the rotation against the Raptors in the second round. Good thing Hood kept himself prepared and engaged. For a night, Hood showed the same promise he did with the Jazz, giving the team a sorely needed on-ball creator not named LeBron James or George Hill. They’ll need an exact replica of the performance in Game 4.

Tristan Thompson

A major rebounding effort shouldn’t be that big of an ask from Thompson. His performance on the glass (specifically on the offensive end) two Finals ago left Golden State helpless, and he got a ring for his troubles; last postseason, Thompson was outrebounded by Curry. In Game 2, Curry haunted him again. Thompson’s inability to defend the 6-foot-3 sharpshooter prompted one reporter to ask him afterward, “Did you feel helpless?” Thompson walked out of the interview.

Both Warriors guards have feasted on mismatches on the perimeter, but Cleveland’s options are limited defensively. (They’re also limited in scoring, playmaking—you get the point.) Rebounding is the only real advantage the Cavs can have on defense, yet 34 minutes of Thompson in Game 3 produced only seven boards, as compared with the five each he had the two games prior. It’s hard to put specialists on the floor against the Warriors; if Thompson is going to be on the floor for the majority of the game, he has to be counted on to do what he does best.

Kevin Love

There is a benefit to being on a terrible defensive unit: You aren’t singled out as a liability as much when everyone else is one, too. Love’s lack of mobility has never been as glaring as it has been these four Warriors-Cavaliers series. He’s the butt of the joke when switched onto Curry or KD, but there have been sprinkles of quality defense from Love in between the lowlights, plays in which he’s kept up with Durant or even leveled himself to Curry on the perimeter effectively, especially in the first half of Game 3.

Of course, it’s not the first time Love’s shown capability on the big stage:

The offense can’t survive without Love on the floor, not because he’s a playmaker, but because outside of LeBron, Love is its best weapon. He’s averaged 21 and 12 through three games, an offensive load that explains him slowing down at the end of games on the other end. But Love has shown enough wherewithal that his persistence could make a difference. Iguodala’s return complicates the lineups Cleveland can counter with, but it will become less of an issue if Love can keep up the aggression he showed early on Wednesday.

LeBron James

Do you.