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Small Screens: ‘NBA Finals’ Game 3 Review

Body horror, unsettling extras abruptly cut to mid-scene, hints at an alternate timeline unfolding — ‘Game 3’ of The NBA Finals did away with any semblance of the story arc continuity and character development we’ve seen thus far in the series.

A bold choice by showrunner Adam Silver, executed daringly by joint director Ime Udoka, was to entirely upend and change the setting of the action in this episode. The last two episodes took place on a relatively demure, almost bland wood piazza, encircled by a live audience that did not interfere with the action of each scene. That went out the window last night when the characters were thrust onto what appeared a gigantic approximation of a living room floor amidst a loud, crowded and overtly hostile audience.

There were many, many middle aged men loosely holding to plastic cups of half finished beer barely six minutes into the episode, how glazed their eyes were not dulling at all the ferocity sparking in them. Indeed, this was the first episode where it was revealed that the live audience is in fact a feature of the show’s setting, as vital to the energy and outcome of each scene as each Finals character. It was some of the most high-definition camera work we’ve seen so far in the show, offering up exacting, at times distressing details of the crowd — green wigs, layers and layers of lacquered green beads roped around reddening necks, so much screaming — why would Silver spend such a huge chunk of the show’s production budget on this if it were not to further the visceral experience Finals is going for?

Much like the growth of setting as a major storyline component in ‘Game 3,’ this episode brought with it continued beats on the theme of transition. We saw shifts from one end of the floor to the other, repeated so many times that the rhythm of each character running, fumbling, colliding, and running back to do it all again at the other end of the floor became hypnotic. Like previous productions in Silver’s past Finals has focused on power and control — who has it, who wants it, and all the way it changes hands over the course of a series.

Something Finals delights in is communicating the energy of a scene without any dialogue. Robert Williams III (Robert Williams III) is excellent at this, with arms that are able to hyper-extend on cue in homage to the more surrealist styles of David Lynch or even early Ridley Scott. Silver is adept at finding actors most skilled at this controlled physicality, able to blend an array of physical theater, stunts and occasional physical comedy to drive the story forward through movement instead of relying on writers. Ironically, Silver has been criticized in the past on claims that his past series’ have been too scripted, that the outcomes seem obvious and easy to determine. While that doesn’t appear to be the case with Finals, it feels even less likely given the work that Draymond Green (Draymond Green) has been doing on the show.

There were hints of the chaos Draymond Green was weaving in ‘Game 2’ but ‘Game 3’ saw even more blatant examples of a character with motivations actively running against (and sometimes physically running the wrong way) those of his organization, the Warriors.

Even when the objective of the Warriors aren’t clear, this is a group that tends to perform best when clustered together. There were times in ‘Game 3’ when Draymond Green hung well behind his co-stars, or seemed to lose all awareness of where he was within a scene. It’s unclear whether this lackadaisical shift in motivation is supposed to signal someone at the end of their rope, perhaps worn down by being the “fixer” so far in the series. We got no conclusion to this theory in ‘Game 3’ because Draymond Green vanished before the end of the episode.

Another deceptive character is Derrick White (Derrick White), who pairs his cherubic face and patently innocent expressions with the focus and intent of a demon, and Al Horford (Al Horford), who introduced body horror to the show when he unexpectedly dove and appeared to recline on Silver’s recurring series star Steph Curry’s (Steph Curry) leg. Is Al Horford turning into a late antagonist solely based on environmental circumstance, or is this going to be the slow realization of a villain awakening? Moreover, do we believe it?

Contrary to public discussions around the show that have run rampant since ‘Game 1’ debuted that the Warriors group appears too casual, hardly reacting defensively to what the Celtics group has accused them of, Andrew Wiggins (Andrew Wiggins) to many major sleights this episode. He was seen smacking the ball out of the hands of his co-stars again and again.

Beyond the Draymond Green theory, Finals has introduced easter eggs and open-ended speculation with none of it actually paying off yet. There were references in ‘Game 3’ of the Warriors reverting to a zone that’s become distorted, were those hints at an alternate reality timeline unfolding in the show? There’s also been a lot of emphasis placed on what the narrators of the show colloquially refer to as the “third quarter,” a period of time that sees the Warriors group reviving, no matter how badly things have gone for them. There’s no obvious reason for it that director Steve Kerr has made clear, but like a lot of what we’re learning in NBA Finals, explanations and rationale are not often tied to the in-scene action.

Perhaps the most bizarre example of this came when a man who appeared important to the lore of the story, sitting front row way off to the side of the action, was left hanging when he asked for a high-five from a fellow “studio audience” extra.

Overall, while the drama and stakes of ‘Game 3’ have ratcheted up, with the panicky narrators panicking even more than usual and pleading to no one in particular with disjointed lines like, “They cannot give them life by turning the basketball over” and, “They are just pounding them, with very little resistant, at the rim,” things do not seem as dire as they’ve been framed. Fundamental questions — like who is this series true villain and is existing in two realities what’s making Klay Thompson (Klay Thompson) so tired? — remain, but Silver still has at least two episodes to deliver us the answers in.